Despite differences in some parts of the world (such as in Spanish-speaking countries where both the father’s and mother’s names are often passed on to their children), in many cultures it is the father’s name that is passed down to children. Looking back in history, without good records, the mother’s name is not always known in such cultures.
Although Judaism determines individual Jewish identity by means of matrilineal descent, in biblical times patrilineal descent was utilized for determining things such as tribal affiliation, priestly status and royalty. Detailed family records certainly were kept, as we find genealogies going back a great many generations. Nevertheless, we have only to look at the Books of Kings and Chronicles to see that the ancient kings of Judah and Israel are usually listed as being the son of a named father.
But there are some interesting exceptions – or perhaps we should say “additions” to this fact. In some cases the name of the king’s mother is given. What is interesting is the breakdown of which kings have their mothers' names recorded. In a few instances the mothers of bad kings are listed, and in these cases the women seem to have been a negative influence on the king (for example, Rehoboam, son of a foreign woman; Ahaziah, son of the daughter of the evil Jezebel). Perhaps more significant is the fact that the mother is listed for every one of the kings of the divided monarchy of whom the Bible says they ruled well.
The fact that the mothers of the bad kings are not usually recorded, but the mothers of the good kings always are, can hardly be the result of simply incomplete records. It would seem that the biblical writers are consciously giving credit to the mothers of the good kings. David himself wrote: “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did …” (Psalm 116:16), and although his father appears to have been a very upright man, David clearly honors his mother’s influence in what he says in this psalm.
So, next time we read the name of a mother given in the biblical account, we should realize that the mother’s name is probably not just a footnote to the story. We should give credit to those women whose children became good rulers and be encouraged by the lesson they give us – of how important a mother can be in the development of her children’s character.