The Greek form of the name, Babylon, is from the native Akkadian Bāb-ilu, which means "Gate of the god". This correctly summarizes the religious purpose of the great temple towers (the ziggurats) of ancient Sumer (which many believe to be Biblical Shinar in modern southern Iraq). These huge, squared-off stepped temples were intended as gateways for the gods to come to earth, literal stairways to heaven. "Reaching heaven" is a common description in temple tower inscriptions. This is the type of structure referred to in the Biblical narrative, though artists and biblical scholars envisaged the tower in many different ways.
There is a Sumerian myth similar to that of the Tower of Babel, called Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta, where the two rival gods, Enki and Enlil end up confusing the tongues of all humankind as collateral damage arising from their argument.
In Genesis 10, Babel is said to have formed part of Nimrod's kingdom. Although not specifically mentioned in the Bible that he ordered the tower to be built, Nimrod is often associated with its construction in other sources.