Why wasn’t Daniel’s name changed like that of his three friends?

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
of Aku”);
• Mishael (“Who is like God?”) became Meshach (again invoking
Aku); and
• Azariah (“Yahweh is my help”) became Abednego (“servant of
Nebo”).

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
essentials?

I hope these questions are of interest and use to you, and I thank you for your own question.

Daniel and his friends refusing to eat the King’s food, “early 1900s Bible illustration,” courtesy Wikipedia

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

One thought on “Why wasn’t Daniel’s name changed like that of his three friends?”

  1. 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.

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