What’s in a Name

When it comes down to it, those who love us most still know us for the names we have been given.

Recently, we read in Genesis 32 the story of Jacob wrestling with God. It was in that story that we hear that Jacob has been given the name Israel. While we focused on a deeper theme in the story, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about names.

Our grandchildren are 13 months old and 10 months old, and they are at that age where speech is just beginning to take shape. While all of the grandparents have been using grandparent names, only our granddaughter’s paternal grandparents have other grandchildren who have called them by their names. Our grandson is the first grandchild for all of his grandparents, so we are not exactly sure what our grandparent names will be!

The reality we learned from watching our own children grow up is that they accept the adult prompt for grandparents’ names only some of the time. And even when they do accept the prompt to call grandparents a specific name, there is still nothing quite like hearing your name spoken by that little voice just learning language.

Then there are nicknames … typically given us by people we love, as well. When our children were very small, our daughter, Layne, had trouble saying her older brother’s name. When she couldn’t say “Philip,” she called him “Phuppy,” which the family still calls him from time to time. A name given by a little sister instead of a parent is just as meaningful.

Our son-in-law, Jeff, is an air force pilot, and we learned early on that his call sign is given to him just when we finishes the basic course for his particular aircraft. It can only be given to him by experienced pilots who are his instructors. It’s a sacred rite of passage for a pilot to be given his call sign.

Earlier in my ministry, I learned a good deal of American Sign Language, and when asked my sign name, it had to be a name given to me by a deaf person. I had all sorts of lofty signs for myself that had to do with my calling and position as a pastor, but when my deaf friends gave me my name, it had only to do with my beard by forming a J around the lower part of the chin. While I might have been momentarily disappointed, there is nothing quite like being given your sign name by deaf friends.

Our name … our real name … is always something that is given to us. It is not something we give ourselves. Yes, I know of people who didn’t like their name and who had it legally changed. I know of celebrities who have chosen stage names that sound better on marquees than the names given them. But when it comes down to it, those who love us most still know us for the names we have been given.

Which brings us back to the story from Genesis! We are people who have all kinds of names for ourselves. Some of those names are negative names based upon our poor self-images and low self-esteem. Some of those names are little more than propaganda as we attempt to mold more positive, sometimes false, images we want others to see.

In our contemporary worship service, we sang “Hello, My Name Is” on the Sunday we read that story, and it came as a reminder that we may have many names, but the our real name is “child of the one true king.” As I’ve reflected more and more upon my name, I have come to the realization that the only name that matters is “child of God.” The name God gives me will never be taken away, and that’s the name that brings we hope … of course, I am still a little excited about what Mason or Mackenzie will call me in the coming months!

So as you go about your daily lives, pause just a moment to reflect upon your name. Think about how people who love you most say your given name (or perhaps a nickname). Remember that, no matter what you are called or think you should be called, you will always be a child of God. Remember your name … remember who you are!

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