In the ancient word, people told (and created) stories about the origins of names and what those names meant. There are numerous stories of this sort told in the Bible’s various different textual traditions. Not surprisingly all of the names of the children of Jacob, the eponymous twelve tribes of ancient Israel, were given fanciful etymologies where the meaning of each name was playfully related to a particular story or the circumstance of their birth. Here are some duplicate etymologies that we find cut-and-pasted together in Genesis 29:31-30:24.
The name Reuben—which literally translates “Look, a son”—is so named according to one tradition because “Yahweh saw, looked at” (ra’a be-) Leah’s sufferings, and according to another tradition because Jacob “will love me” (ye’ehabani).
Likewise, the meaning and origin of Issachar’s name according to J is “for I have hired you” (sakor sekartika), which is a direct reference to the mandrake story; and according to E’s textual tradition it is “God has granted me my reward” (sekari), which is derived from Leah’s reward for having provided her husband with a concubine.
Zebulun’s double etymology is given as “my man will bring me presents” (yizbeleni) from J, and “God has given me a precious gift” (zebadani zebed) from E.
Finally, there is Joseph’s duplicate etymology: J’s “may Yahweh add” (yosep) and E’s “God has removed” (’asap). To give the reader some idea about what is going on with the Hebrew in these etymologies, in the case of Joseph’s etymology, J has traced the name back to the root ysp, meaning “add,” and thus we get “may Yahweh add” (yosep) as an explanation of the name Yosep. E, on the other hand, traces the name back to the root ’sp, meaning “to take away,” and thus God “has removed” (’asap) becomes the explanation for Yosep.
Such fanciful stories were created to explain the meaning of an ancestral patriarch’s name. In all probability, or at least my fanciful contribution, the name Yoseph derives from yšb, “resident,” as a resident in a foreign land—a prominent theme of the Elohist’s Joseph. Furthermore, we again notice the Elohist’s emphasis on divine revelation since all of this tradition’s etymologies are traced to an action by God. This is a common feature of the Elohist, and we will see examples of it in the forthcoming stories about Jacob.