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Origin of the Name Moses/Moshe

Question: Was Moshe (Moses) originally an Egyptian name or a Jewish name? I have heard that it is both. I would appreciate a clarification. Thank you.

Answer: Thank you for sending us your question. I don’t know if you’ll get a clarification from us, but here’s a quote from the footnotes of The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”l which you can find here too:

In Egyptian, Moshe means a son. Thus, his naming is prefaced by a phrase that is literally translated, ‘he became to her as a son’ (cf. Ibn Ezra; Hadar Zekenim). Significantly, the suffix moshe is found (and exclusively so) in the names of many Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, such as Ka-moshe (‘son of [Ra’s] majesty’), Ach-moshe (Ahmose; ‘son of the moon,’ or ‘the moon is born’) and Toth-moshe (Thutmose; ‘son of Toth’). The word moshe may indeed be of Semitic origin (see next note, this verse, ‘bore’), introduced by the Semitic Hyksos.

According to other ancient sources, the name Moses comes from the Egyptian mo (water) and uses (drawn from) (Josephus, Antiquities 2:9:6, Contra Apion 1:31; Philo De Vita Moses 2:17; Malbim).

Some sources state that Moses’ Egyptian name was Monius (Ibn Ezra; cf. Abarbanel; Josephus, Contra Apion 1:26, 28). Other ancient sources claim that Moses’ name was preserved among the Gentiles as the legendary Musaeus, teacher of Orpheus, from whom the Muses obtained their name (Artapanus, in Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica 9:27).

See 2 Samuel 22:17, Psalms 18:12; note on Genesis 47:11. In Egyptian, mase or mashe means to give birth. Others see the word as related to the Hebraic mush, and of Semitic origin (Rashi; Chizzkuni; Tur; see note, this verse, ‘Moses’).

I’ll add that I recall hearing from Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg z”l, former Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel in Baltimore, that even if the name is Egyptian, when the Torah writes of Pharoah’s daughter’s naming of Moshe based on having “drawn him from the water” “Min HaMayim MiShisihu” the Torah is explaining that she found that Egyptian name meaningful because of it’s connection to being drawn from the water.

All the Best,
Mordechai Dixler

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