When visiting Israel, it is sometimes overwhelming to see all of the place names that may seem strange and new. Places like “Tel Aviv” and “Be’er Sheva” sound quite exotic and may be hard to remember at first. Nonetheless, like most places in the world, many places and cities in Israel have names that actually have meanings. By learning some of the common words that often appear in place names, you will be able to become better acquainted with Israel, while building your vocabulary.
Many places have the word “Tel” in it. Some examples of this include “Tel Aviv”, “Tel Monde”, “Tel Hai”, and many more. So what does the word “Tel” mean? This word (spelled “Tell” in English) has a very interesting and somewhat complex meaning. A “Tel” is actually a specific archaeological feature which is very common in Israel, a place that has been inhabitated by people for thousands and thousands of years. Basically a “Tel” is a mound underneath which lay the ruins of previous settlements that once stood on the same spot. If you see a “Tel” along the side of the road, there is a good chance that three, four, or even five previous settlements lay hidden inside the mound! The word “Aviv” means “Spring”. The city of Tel Aviv was named such, as it represented a rebirth of the Jewish nation in a place where it had previously settled.
Many place names also have the word “Be’er” in it. Some examples include “Be’er Sheva”, “Be’er Yitzhak” and many others. The word “Be’er” means a “well”. While we now know what “Be’er” means, the origin of the name of the city of Be’er Sheva is disputed in the Bible itself! One account claims that it means “The Well of the Oath”, as “sheva” can mean an “oath” and it is located in a place where Abraham and Abimelech made an oath to one another. It is also claimed to come from the fact that Abraham’s son, Isaac, dug seven wells in the area and “sheva” also means “seven”.