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Last Updated: 2013/02/02
Summary of question
What is the relationship between a name and the named especially in regards to the names of the Infallibles (a.s.)?
question
It is seen in the Holy Quran that God has chosen names for His noble servants, names which He has not chosen for anyone before like Jesus son of Mary, Yahya son of Zakariya. Also, when it comes to the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s.), names such as Muhammad and Ali were not previously used among Arabs. My question is: What do those names imply and why did Allah chose them for His noble servants? Do those names connote an important and an in-depth reality?
Concise answer
The discussion concerning the prophets’ names and those of the infallible imams (a.s.) and the development of those names in the history of human civilizations would require us to conduct a comprehensive and hermeneutical investigation.  The relationship and interconnection between a word and its meaning especially when it comes to the names of the infallibles precisely indicate the special position and rank of the named in the realm of existence. According to some narrations, those holy names derive from God’s holy names. There is no doubt as to the names of the Five Members of the Cloak. The same can be said in regards to the names of some prophets including Yahya and Jesus as they were divinely revealed.
Detailed Answer
The relationship between a name and the named is a delicate discussion in religious epistemology with a lot of evidence available in the traditions of the infallibles (a.s.). Such a relationship is found more closely with the names of the infallibles. It is undeniable about the names of some of the infallibles. Not only are those names closely connected to the named but there are synonyms mentioned for those divinely designated names in different languages. All of those names originate in the revelation and divine designation. The discussion concerning the prophets’ names and those of the infallible imams (a.s.) and the development of those names in the history of human civilizations would require us to conduct a comprehensive and hermeneutical investigation. It is indeed one of the most basic discussions in these sciences.
Assuming that there is close connection between the names and the named, we shall suffice to producing some evidence and proofs from textual sources with reliance on the narrations:
One of the most wonderful discussions in this regard concerns the names of the Five Members of the Cloak. According to Islamic teachings especially Shiite belief, these names were known and predicted as names of selected and noble servants of God. In fact, according to some scholars, the infallibles existed in the form of lights long before they came physically into being. Many of the prophets sought divine assistance and blessing uttering their names.[i] After they were born, the names were used and divinely designated for them.
The relationship and interconnection between a word and its meaning especially when it comes to these names precisely indicate the special position and rank of the named in the realm of existence. According to some narrations, these holy names derive from God’s holy names as they have been created from God’s light. There are famous narrations which make explicit reference to this reality. One of those narrations is the following:
«عن أبی عبد الله (ع) قال إن الله تبارک و تعالى کان و لا شی‏ء فخلق خمسة من نور جلاله و [جعل‏] لکل واحد منهم اسما من أسمائه المنزلة فهو الحمید و سمى [النبی‏] محمدا ص و هو الأعلى و سمى أمیر المؤمنین علیا و له الأسماء الحسنى فاشتق منها حسنا و حسینا و هو فاطر فاشتق لفاطمة من أسمائه اسما»[ii]
It has been narrated from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) that he said that there was God and none other than Him. Then he created the Five Members of the Cloak from the light of His greatness and glory and designated a name for each of them: So God was “Hamid” and He designated the name of Muhammad for the Prophet (pbuh), God was ‘A’laa (lofty) and He designated the name “Ali” for the Commander of the Faithful.  He had husna good (names) and He derived the name Hasan and Hussein from them. He was ‘Fatir’ (Originator) and designated a name derived from His name for Fatima.
There is no doubt as to the connection in the names of the Five Members of the Cloak – peace and blessings of Allah be upon them. The same can be said in regards to the names of some prophets including Yahya and Jesus as they were divinely revealed and designated. There is a profound connection between these good names and those noble prophets.
 

[i] Vide: Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol.8, p. 305, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran 1365, No. Shaykh Saduq, Ma’ani al-Akhbar, p. 125, Jame’ah Mudarresin Publications, Qom, 1361 (1982).
[ii] Abul Qasim Furat bin Ibrahim, Tafsir Furat al-Kufi, p. 57, Center for Printing and Publication of Ministry of Islamic Guidance, Tehran, 1410 A.H.
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