Q. Why was Daniel’s name allowed to remain ‘Daniel’? His trio of friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had their names changed to ones in the Babylonian language. Curious to learn. Thank you.
Actually, Daniel was given a Babylonian name himself at the same time as his friends. The book of Daniel tells us that when these four were brought to Babylon and enrolled in training to become servants at the royal court, the official responsible for them “gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.”
However, the book of Daniel does treat its central figure differently in this regard from his three friends, and that’s probably what has struck you. It continues to call him Daniel in its own narrative, though it does note in three places that he was “also called Belteshazzar“; the Babylonian characters in the book also address him by that name. By contrast, the book calls his three friends by their Hebrew names only in the first episode and at the beginning of the second one; after that, even in its own narrative it uses their Babylonian names.
It’s not clear why this is the case. It’s possible that the third episode, in which the three friends are the central characters (it’s also the last one in which they appear), is based on a Babylonian source, which would have used their Babylonian names, and they have simply been carried over. While the second episode does use their Hebrew names at the beginning, it uses their Babylonian names at the end; this might be to help create continuity leading into the next episode. Daniel, on the other hand, might have been known so well by that name by the book’s intended audience that the authors or compilers might have supplied his Hebrew name when their sources said Belteshazzar, but kept the Babylonian name in an “also known as” parenthesis. However, this is speculative; we don’t know for sure.
Whatever the case, these names are not just a matter of historical curiosity. They have something to teach us about faithfully following God in our own day. As I observe in my study guide to Daniel and Revelation:
– – – – –
Daniel and his friends had to decide how much of the Babylonian
culture they could adopt without fatally compromising their faith. They
didn’t take an all-or-nothing approach. They didn’t say, “You’ve got to go
along if you want to get along,” and agree to everything the Babylonians
expected. They also didn’t say that everything Babylonian was evil and had
to be rejected. They diligently studied the “language and literature of the
Babylonians,” even though this literature centered around the exploits of
foreign gods. They also accepted new names that praised these gods instead
of their own God:
• Daniel (“God is my judge/vindicator”) became Belteshazzar (a
name that invoked the Babylonian god Bel);
• Hananiah (“Yahweh is gracious”) became Shadrach (“companion
• Mishael (“Who is like God?”) became Meshach (again invoking
• Azariah (“Yahweh is my help”) became Abednego (“servant of
Somehow these young men determined that what they were studying,
and the new names they were given, didn’t compromise the essentials of their faith. But they drew the line when it came to eating foods that God had told the Israelites, in the law of Moses, not to eat, because they had a distinct identity as his people.
– – – – –
After those observations, I pose the following questions for reflection and application in the study guide:
What kinds of situations might a person encounter today that
would challenge them to compromise their values and beliefs?
How can a person know where to draw the line in these situations,
so that they cooperate where possible but never compromise
I hope these questions are of interest and use to you, and I thank you for your own question.
5 thoughts on “Why wasn’t Daniel’s name changed like that of his three friends?”
Regarding the topic on Daniel and his friends appointed Babylonian names. It must have been very difficult for them to believe in God and have to study about a culture that only believe in false gods and given names that identify with false gods. That would be like those who are one denomination forced to study some other denomination or religion and live according to their beliefs. I often wondered if Daniel and his friends had to bow to the King when they were taught to only bow to their God. I’m beginning to believe they did because they had no choice but to live like the Babylonians.
Thanks you so much sir for the useful imformation. God bless you abundantly your family and ministry
I have often felt frustrated that Daniel continues to be called by his Hebrew name and that Hananiah, Micheal, and Azariah are almost exclusively known by their Babylonian names. Yes, Daniel is the main character, and yes, they all probably answered to their assigned names, but their dedication to the Lord of Israel is clear in the narrative, and I expect that they continued to use their Hebrew names amongst their own people.
In case you think I’m being inconsistent in my dislike of the inconsistency in Hebrew/Babylonian name usage, I’m frustrated by poor Hadassah being forever known as Esther too!
(And don’t get me started on the fact that I’m frequently corrected on my “mispronunciation” of Azariah’s Babylonian name. Everyone who ever went to Sunday school is very insistent that it’s “A-bend-a-go” and is skeptical when I tell them that, no, it’s actually “A-bed-nay-go.”)
Daniel is called by his Babylonian name Belteshazzar half a dozen times in the part of the book of Daniel in which Nebuchadnezzar relates how God humbled him and restored him. Nebuchadnezzar’s widow, by then the queen mother, also calls him by that name when she encourages her son, the new king, to consult him. She calls him “Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar.” So she knew him by both his Hebrew and his Babylonian name. The account of the vision Daniel had during the reign of Cyrus also identifies him as “Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar.” But I agree with you that by and large the book of Daniel calls him by his Hebrew name, while it mostly calls his three companions by their Babylonian names. However, as you say, this does not reflect any greater degree of assimilation on their part or any lesser devotion to God, and we should not take it that way.
While we are on the subject of mispronunciations, I would note that the name of the prophet Haggai is pronounced “Hag-guy,” not “Ha-gay-aye.” And the last book of the Bible is called Revelation, singular, not Revelations, plural.
Daniel knew himself by his Hebrew name not so much by Belteshazzar. He referred to himself as Daniel.