Hoshea was a prophet who was active during the reigns of Uzziah, Yotham, Ahaz, and Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah) in Yehudah and Yerovam II (Jeroboam ben Joash) in Israel. That makes his work approximately contemporary with that of Yesheyahu (Isaiah), although Hoshea probably began a bit earlier and was probably a little older than Yesheyahu, since Yesheyahu’s extant prophecies only concern Yehudah shortly after the fall of Israel.
We don’t know much about Hoshea, as a man, other than that he identified himself as Hoshea ben Beeri. As with Yehezkiel’s pedigree, the meaning of Hoshea’s identity has two possibilities: literal/familial or symbolic. The name Beeri occurs at only one other point in the TaNaKh. B’resheit (Genesis) 26:34 identifies Beeri as the Hittite father of one of Esav’s wives. It may be that Hoshea considered himself to be a descendent of this Hittite. It may also be that Hoshea wished to connect himself to the Torah Hittite in the sense that all the nation is connected to the Hittites. Yehezkiel wrote of Jerusalem, “Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite” (16:3). Was Hoshea’s identity a metaphor that inspired Yehezkiel? Some of Hoshea’s other metaphors certainly did.
Within the metaphorical possibility lie multiple interpretations. One is that, since Hoshea later uses himself as a metaphor for Israel, he may be using a round-about way to compare Israel to Esav–the descendents of Beeri the Hittite also being children of Esav. Such a comparison would indicate that, like Esav, the children of Israel are careless of their birthright, are not tenacious in seeking blessings, do not respect the traditions of their forebears, and have a penchant for foreign women (an ever popular euphemism for idolatry).
A third possibility is that “ben Beeri” (as with Yehezkiel ben Buzi) is a symbolic name relevant to Hoshea’s message and the times in which he lived. “Beer” means “well” or “pit,” so “beeri” could be interpreted as meaning “from/of the well/pit.” Hoshea means “salvation” or “he saves/helps.” Hoshea’s theme is redemption arising from destruction, so Hoshea ben Beeri could refer to salvation from the pit (the pit being the Exile) or it could refer to the salvation of a well in the desert–a reference to the water from the rock provided in Shemot (Exodus) 17 (salvation arising from a misdeed) or to the cleansing powers of water (the Chaldean conquest being a purification of the people, resulting in their redemption).
I think the title “ben Beeri,” like Yehezkiel’s “ben Buzi” is probably symbolic and might be symbolic of any combination of the metaphors suggested, or perhaps others of which I am not aware. That said, Hoshea was also from the north. Being a northern contemporary of Yesheyahu, it is safe to assume that Hoshea was a professional prophet (unlike Yermiyahu and Yehezkiel), and acted in the same professional capacity as Yesheyahu–part holy man, part political advisor, part analyst, part commentator.