It is difficult to determine when the use of last names, or surnames, began. While there were some instances of some people using surnames in the Roman Empire, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the use of surnames became more prominent. Now, almost every nation and culture uses surnames to help identify themselves. Surnames originally indicated one’s occupation (such as Smith). It could also indicate one’s father’s name (John’s son would be Johnson), or the city of birth or residence. In the times of the writing of the Bible, the use of surnames was not in common practice.

Let us consider Judas Iscariot and a few others who were known by more than one name.

JUDAS ISCARIOT – The word ‘Iscariot’ means ‘the man from Kerioth,’ which, in all likelihood is where Judas came from, thus he was called Judas Iscariot. It may be that the often use of the word ‘Iscariot’ was to distinguish him from others who were also named Judas. The Lord Jesus had a half-brother named Judas as we read in Matthew 13:55, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?” There was also another apostle named Judas. We find him referred to as “Judas…not Iscariot” in John 14:22.

SIMON PETER – Acts 10:4-5 says, “And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter.” It was the Lord Jesus who gave Simon the name ‘Peter’ in Matthew 16:17-18, “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, SIMON BARJONA: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art PETER, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It was here, upon his confession of Christ as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (verse 16) that Simon was given the name, Peter. Notice that the Lord called Simon ‘Simon Barjona’ which is also a type of surname. ‘Barjona’ means ‘son of Jonah.’ There was another disciple named Simon and we see him identified as “Simon called Zelotes” (Luke 6:15) and “Simon Zelotes” (Acts 1:13). He was most likely called so because of his zealousness.

MARY MAGDALENE – The Lord Jesus met Mary in Luke 8:1-2, “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, MARY CALLED MAGDALENE, out of whom went seven devils.” It is most likely that Mary came from the town of Magdala of which we read about in Matthew 15:39, “And he sent away the multitude, and took ship, and came into the coasts of Magdala.” Thus, Mary became known as Mary Magdalene, so named because of her city. In the same sense, the Lord Jesus was sometimes called ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.

So, we see in these portions a type of surname given to some. They were used to help identify them as to where they were from, or who their parents were.

Before closing, let’s consider one man who normally was referred to by three names. We read in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the LORD JESUS CHRIST, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

LORD – Supreme in authority, Master

JESUS – Savior

CHRIST – The anointed One, Messiah

Have you put your faith in Him? Are you saved? (284.2)