Question: "How is choosing a good name better than choosing riches (Proverbs 22:1)?"
Answer: Since most people don’t get to choose their names, why does Proverbs 22:1 say, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (ESV)? Likewise, why does Ecclesiastes 7:1 similarly suggest that “a good name is better than fine perfume”?
The word name in both verses means “reputation,” “standing,” or “the general estimation and recognition of a person.” In ancient Israel, a person’s name was intricately linked with his reputation and standing in the community. The term translated “to be chosen” in the original language carries the idea of going after what is more desirable, preferable, or worth much more. Favor is actually “good favor” in the original Hebrew and corresponds with name in the first line of the verse. In this framework, favor means “acceptance, respect, or esteem from other people.” Thus, Proverbs 22:1 emphasizes the superior value of maintaining a good, respectable reputation.
Like wisdom, an honorable standing or “a good name” is more valuable than money, riches, and expensive material things like silver, gold, and fine perfume. A good rephrasing of the proverb would be, “It is far better to have honor and esteem associated with one’s name than all the riches in the world,” or, as the New Living Translation renders Proverbs 22:1, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.” Since, in the poetic Hebrew parallelism, the two lines of the passage mean essentially the same thing, the Contemporary English Version combines them: “A good reputation and respect are worth much more than silver and gold.”
Proverbs 22:1 is not suggesting that it is wrong to have a lot of money and possessions. Wealth is not the culprit, but how we obtain it matters. If we acquire riches at the expense of destroying our reputation, then we have paid too high a price. Riches are worthless if, in pursuing them, we ruin our character. “Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it,” says Proverbs 1:19 (see also Proverbs 10:2).
Shakespeare, in one of his plays, echoes the teaching of Proverbs 22:1, putting these wise words into the mouth of Iago:
“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed” (Othello, III:iii).
Having a good name or honorable reputation is the result of developing inner character and living uprightly. Ruth’s story proves that living with integrity builds a respectable reputation (Ruth 2:1–13). A good reputation comes from obeying God’s Word (Deuteronomy 4:1–14), living to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9–10), and always striving to keep a clear conscience before God and people (Acts 24:16; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:1).
Even as a young boy, Jesus cultivated a good reputation as He grew “in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52, NLT). The early church leaders chose seven men of “good reputation” (Acts 6:3, NKJV) to serve as deacons. The Bible describes at least one of them, Stephen, as a man who was “full of the Spirit and wisdom,” “full of faith” (Acts 6:5), and “full of grace and power” (Acts 6:8).
Proverbs 3:3–4 teaches, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Once again, a good name here means “a respectable reputation.” Love in the original language denotes “kindness,” as in how we treat our fellow humans. And faithfulness refers to “steadfastness, and fidelity to one’s word,” especially regarding our obligations and relations with other men and women. When the Lord’s lovingkindness and faithfulness surround our hearts like a beautiful garland, we earn the favor of God and others. This favor provides us with a good name, branding our reputation and hanging like a monogram over the threshold of our lives. A good name such as this is more desirable than all the money in the world.