Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Sarai
Sarai is a Hebrew name borne from the Bible; she was Abram’s wife and Isaac’s mother – essentially the matriarch of all the Israeli people. Later, their names would be changed from Sarai to Sarah and from Abram to Abraham as instructed by God. But first, Sarah was called Sarai. It’s a bit confusing, but God’s name change for the couple does have meaning. For instance, Abram means “exalted father” and Abraham means “father of many”. This name change has significance because it comes right after the Lord establishes His covenant with Abram and Sarai – they will become a great nation and live in the bountiful Promised Land. In Genesis 17:15 God said to Abram, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.” This name change is a little more obscure and undefined. There are possibly two meanings. One, Sarai means “princess” while Sarah means “my princess” with a queenlier or more exalted meaning to denote her upcoming stature among the Promised People. The other debatable meaning could be that “Sarai” comes from the Hebrew word for ‘contentious, quarrelsome.’ Why would this make sense? Well, before the name change, when Sarah was still Sarai in Genesis 16, we learn that she was unable to conceive a child due to her advanced age so she urges Abram to take her female Egyptian servant, Hagar, so that “[Sarai] may obtain children by her.” (Genesis 16:2). Hagar is successful in this endeavor and bears a son to Abram (Ishmael). Although this was an outcome of her own doing, Sarai becomes bitter after Hagar, now with something Sarai lacks (i.e., a baby), looked “with contempt on her mistress.” Sarai blames Abram for her sorry position, but Abram reminds Sarai that Hagar is still her servant and in her power: “…do to her as you please” he says. And so Sarai henceforth deals with Hagar harshly until the servant flees with her son Ishmael into the wilderness. In this part of the Biblical story Sarai is indeed ‘contentious and quarrelsome’. When God finally changes Sarai’s name to Sarah in Genesis 17:15, He was essentially bestowing blessings upon Sarai (at the same time God instructs Abraham to call Sarai Sarah, He also promises Abraham that Sarah will bear a son to him, Isaac – which she indeed does at the ripe old age of 90!). And so the story goes. All ends well for our little contentious princess Sarai/Sarah.