Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylonia from 605 BC to around 563 BC, and he was responsible for changing Daniel’s name to Belteshazzar. King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Judah, destroying Jerusalem in 586 BC, an event that had been prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:9). Some of the inhabitants of Judah were taken back to Babylon as captives, including a number of the children of royal and noble families, to be integrated into Babylonian society (Daniel 1:3–4). Among those taken were four boys, around the age of 14 at the time, named Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
All four of these Hebrew names had meanings connected to faith in God. But upon arrival in Babylon, their names were changed: “The chief official [of Babylon] gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego” (Daniel 1:7). The boys’ names were changed as a way of encouraging them to forget the God and traditions of their homeland and become conformed to the ways and gods of Babylon. It was a forced assimilation; Nebuchadnezzar wanted Daniel and his friends to “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2), and a name change was one step toward that goal.
Each name Daniel and his friends were given carried a meaning associated with a different Babylonian deity. Abednego means “servant of Nebo,” for example. Belteshazzar, the name given to Daniel, means “Bel protects his life.” The meaning of the name Daniel is “God is my judge.” The suffix of Daniel’s name (and Mishael’s) is -el, which refers to Elohim, one of the names of the God of Israel. Azariah and Hananiah carry the suffix -iah or -yah, which is short for Yahweh, the covenant name of God (see Isaiah 26:4).
Miraculously, God kept these young men alive, even though they refused to conform to the indoctrination, diet, and religion of Babylon. Daniel and his companions asked to be fed vegetables rather than the king’s unlawful food, and they were granted their wish on the condition that their health did not suffer. God made them thrive physically beyond their peers, because of their God-honoring obedience (Daniel 1:8–16). They would not bow down to the idol of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and were sentenced to death, but God saved them from the midst of a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23–27). In the end, Nebuchadnezzar was forced to acknowledge the miracle, and he decreed that the people of Babylon honor the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (verses 28–29).
After the wonders of God were shown to him, Nebuchadnezzar himself acknowledged Daniel’s true name and honored the God of Israel, writing, “Daniel came into my presence. . . . (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him)” (Daniel 4:8). Years later, the queen of Babylon still referred to Daniel by his Hebrew name, although she knows of Nebuchadnezzar’s attempt to change it: she spoke of him as “Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar” (Daniel 5:12).