What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name?  Everyone has one and a few know what it means.  Many could care less what their name means as long as it rolls off the tongue nicely or makes them feel good about themselves.  The study of names is called onomastics, a field which touches on linguistics, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, philology and much more. Perhaps there is more to a name than commonly thought.

Where did your name originate?  Most Americans were born with their name, which is to say their parents filled out a hospital form stating the name of their newborn.  Babies born into religious families from at least before the twelfth century often have their name confirmed in a special part of a worship service called christening as part of a larger action such as dedication or baptism.

The question is “How does a name influence a person’s character”?  Consider the preacher who thought he had the perfect illustrative device for his Sunday sermon. Lugging a small basket of new potatoes into the pulpit, he proceeded to pull them out one by one, christening each little tuber with its own particular name-character. One potato he named imi-tator, another was agi-tator, still another was called dic-tator. After going through this silly exercise, he then admonished all his groaning congregation, Now I want you all to be ‘sweet-tators.’As the congregation filed out of the church, one long-suffering parishioner shook the preacher’s hand and said, I know you want me to be a ‘sweet-tator,’ but ‘I yam what I yam.’

A name can mean little to some.  It may be no more than a façade regardless of its etymology when compared to the person’s character.  Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet relationship in Shakespeare’s play of star crossed lovers doomed from the start.  They hail from two warring families akin to Americas Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called “Montague”, not the Montague name and not the Montague family. She says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Names can provide focus and direction, however.  A few years ago a British politician, Austin Mitchell, became Austin Haddock hoping his name would make people eat fish. Since 996 AD Popes usually choose the name of someone they wish to emulate, although they are free to pick any name they wish. Their name gives a hint at the person and leader they hope to be; at the fruit they hope their leadership will yield. Consequently, parents sometimes spend hours poring over books of names to select a name they pray their child will grow into and reflect.  Especially in non-Christian cultures adults who chose to become Christ followers took a new name to reflect the new person they were and hoped to become more fully.

In the Bible “name” stands for the reality behind the name.  Unity is a slice of that reality for Christians.  Baptism and profession of faith places one into the family of God.    To bear the name “Christian” identifies you as part of the family of Jesus Christ.  To be a genuine Christian demands genuine commitment. Such a name change whether legally or only spiritually indicates you are making a permanent, life-long commitment to Christ and will henceforth be identified as being inseparably linked to him. Growth in His name means growth in the fruits and gifts of the Spirit as marks of spiritual maturity.

NAME CHANGE — Is it time to grasp your real name?  Is it time to change your name, i.e. identity, direction and fruitfulness?  Maybe it’s time to whisper “Thank you, God” that your life reflects your name!

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