Canaan was the name of the fourth son of Ham, the youngest son of Noah, the father of all humanity (Genesis 9:18). This Canaan would give his name to the much coveted country of Canaan and the people who live there. The original Canaanites (an ethically diverse group of people) were displaced by Israel (Deuteronomy 7:1, but see our article on the Exodus for additional considerations).The root-verb כנע (kana') is generally thought to mean to be humbled, subdued, or brought into subjection, but more fundamentally, this verb describes the process of synchronicity; bringing elements from a wild, feral state into a state of common order and mutual benefit (like, say, a trade agreement). State formation depends on synchronicity, but, more fundamentally, so does language formation.
Canaan became the recipient of a curious curse that made him the perpetual servant of his two uncles Japheth and Shem. After having survived the flood and their 230 days stay in the Ark (40 days of rain, 150 days of floating, 40 days of drying) Noah planted a vineyard (a common symbol of general human culture), made wine and got drunk, and lay naked in his tent. Then not Canaan but Ham, the father of Canaan, saw Noah naked and quipped about it to Shem and Japheth. The two older brothers walked into their father's tent backwards and covered Noah without looking at him.
When Noah awoke he learned what Ham had done but then lashed out at Canaan, Ham's fourth son. He decreed that Japheth should become large but live in the tents of Shem, but Canaan should be the servant of all of them. Why Noah became so upset with Canaan instead of Ham is not told.
Synchronicity may demand the abandonment of one's naturally free state, which some thinkers interpret as a wholesale loss of freedom. But in fact, the secondary freedom gained (say: the ability to converse) from this initial loss (giving up growling and howling and having to agree on words) is far greater. This same principle may even explain why a universe which operates by means of the second law of thermodynamics (pursue maximum entropy) is able to produce DNA and cells to run it (greater than maximum entropy).
The strength of a group is proportional to its level of synchronicity, and the principles of laughter and harmonic music may have originated as demonstrations of strength (namely group-synchronicity) rather than entertainment (see the name Isaac).
About half of the thirty six occurrences of this verb in the Bible occurs in the reports of military campaigns (Nehemiah 9:24). A large portion of the other occurrences deal with a king's submission to God (1 Kings 21:29).
HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes two striking usages of this verb, namely in Leviticus 26:41 and 2 Chronicles 7:14, where humility is marked as a key condition for God's blessing.
This root yields one derivative, the feminine noun כנעה (kin'a), meaning bundle or pack, which demonstrates that the verb does not simply denotes subdual but rather a bringing tightly together (Jeremiah 10:17 only).