Jabez was a Judahite in the days of the judges that proved himself to be above his low standing to become righteous in the eyes of God and men. He is known for his effective prayer and a town that rose up to support the Bible students (scribes) of his day.
The name Jabez [HEB: (יַעְבֵּץ)] is presumed to be from an unused root (עְבֵּץ) meaning "to grieve" since his mother named him in a time of sorrow.
However, the verb she used is עֹצֶב, a well known word with that meaning. First used by God in his "curse" (or prophecy) to Eve, the word is used of hard, and even painful labor. In her case, it was probably due to hardships in her life. It is likely she or Jabez himself changed the original Yazeb ("I grieve") to an otherwise meaningless name to draw attention away from an ignoble beginning.
After the days of Joshua times were difficult as the Philistines and other groups attacked the theocratic alliance of Hebrew tribes. Apart from able judges such as the prophetess Deborah there had been little hope when almost everyone ignored Yahweh and His priests.
However, the tribe of Judah fared better than others. With able leaders like Boaz small towns like Bethlehem would have been wiped out.
In a nearby town, Coz and his wife seem to have been suffering from the long drought when Jabez is born. His mother, having struggled to raise several young boys already, had a hard time delivering another. Unlike Rachel of old, her labor pains had not been fatal, but she still complained about it. Not thinking of the consequences, she named him to remind everyone of her pain. It is likely that she named him, Jazeb, which was later changed to a lookalike rearrangement that people would not identify with misfortune .
The Prayer of Jabez
When the Chronicler was taking note of the tribal leaders of the period, he was lead by the Spirit of God to insert the legendary prayer of the godly man to whom scribes would come to learn about the Law. It was a humble plea that Yahweh would take care of him, his land and his family. It was notable in a time when many around him sought their own will rather than that of God
The City of Jabez
The Chronicler is recording the ancestry of the great king David when he first mentions the name of the Jabez. His emphasis in the last verses of the chapter are to the inhabitants of the area around Bethlehem, the hometown of the king. Such a mention is quite possibly professional courtesy to his sources. From far away Midian, trained writers came to live near the wise and successful leader of the city that took his name.
Only mentioned here, probably by the same scribe who recorded the long lists leading up to the history of the nation of Judah, it is most likely that the city of the scribes was founded while Jabez was seeing God answer his humble prayer.