What does "beth" mean in various town names?


I have a question that came up in my most recent studies with maps. My study sent me to look at the maps in the back of my Bible, and I found something quite interesting. There are some towns with names that begin with 'Beth', such as Bethlehem. My question pertains to the 'Beth' part. Some of the locations are not hyphenated, Bethlehem or Bethel. However, several are, such as Beth-nimrah, Beth-arbel, Beth-shean. One town is Abel-beth-maacah. Why the hyphen, and what does 'Beth' mean? Is this Hebrew? Is there a difference indicated by the hyphen, to signify something about the town?


"Beth" is a transliteration of a Hebrew word which means "house." It functions very much like "ville" or "borough" does in our town names.

  • Bethel is literally "house of God." "el" is the Hebrew word for God. This is where Jacob had the vision of a ladder to heaven.
  • Bethlehem means "house of bread." In others, it probably was known for its bakeries.
  • Beth-nimrah means "house of the leopard."
  • Beth-haran means "house east of Jordan."
  • Beth-aven means "house of vanity."
  • Beth-horon means "house of hollowness."
  • Beth-baal-meon means "house of the habitation of Baal."
  • Beth-arbel means "house of God's ambush."
  • Beth-shean means "house of ease."

"Abel" in Hebrew means "meadow." Maachah is a person's name, so Abel-Beth-Maachah is the meadow by the house of Maachah. The use of hyphens is to indicate that in Hebrew the names are separate words as oppose to a word when a special ending.