Names

I like my name. It’s easy to pronounce and spell. When I was growing up, I didn’t know any other girls named “Abby,” so it felt unique without being weird. (Fast forward to 2018: There are plenty of little girls with my name now!) The name Abigailcame from a real-life Bible heroine, a woman whose first marriage was to a fool and second marriage was to a king (1 Samuel 25). She was smart and brave and beautiful and knew how to pack a picnic for 600 fighting men. That’s a high standard to live up to, but names can do that to a person.

 

When we named our four kids, I knew I wanted short names. I spent a few years helping kindergarteners learn how to write out their names, so I knew it could be a daunting task. (Just ask a few of the kids from my first class: Jacqueline, Christopher, and Alexander.) Naming our first three kids weighed heavily on me. I made lists and handed them over to my husband for veto. (Our youngest son’s name came to me in a dream, so no lists were generated and no veto power exercised.)

 

There are loads of times (like daily) when I get the very carefully chosen names of my very cherished children wrong. I regularly call one of my twin daughters by the name of my younger sister. I call my other daughter by her twin sister’s name. I call my older son by my husband’s name and my younger son by his brother’s name. I even call my husband by my older sister’s name. It’s not unusual for me to sound like an auctioneer just trying to summon a family member.

 

I read once that a mom mixes up the names of the people she loves the most, because her love for them is equal. I like that hypothesis. That explains why I never accidentally throw in a name of someone I don’t love unconditionally into the mix. For example, you won’t hear me running through the list this way when I’m calling one of my kids to come to the kitchen: “Come here, Ella…I mean, Lucy…No, Knox…Ugh, Jezebel…Ezra!” It just wouldn’t happen.

 

Names are important and naming a human being is no trivial assignment, but names are actually placeholders for what you really want to call them, but don’t always take the time to say. In place of his name, I really want to call my husband: “Man-I-love-and-rely-on-and-admire-most-of-all-people-ever-and-who-I-still-think-is-cute-after-20-plus-years-of-marriage” but that would take too long, and it definitely wouldn’t fit in my phone contacts.

 

Our names are more than what’s on our driver’s license and how we introduce ourselves to others. Our names are our reputations. They are a few steps in front of us before we enter a room. Rather than just a series of vowels and consonants, our name is what is generally known about us. Our names can be the revealing of our past and unmasking of our personality. As it says in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

I will change your name

When my husband and I found out we were having twins, we were a bit like Noah filling his ark—most everything came in 2’s. Two cribs, two car seats, two bouncy seats, a double stroller. We also had to come up with two names.

Before we knew we would have twin girls, we came up with a boy name and a girl name: Sam and Ella. They were short and sweet and sounded pretty good together. “Sam! Ella! It’s time for dinner!” “Sam and Ella, did you brush your teeth?” But the more I practiced saying the names aloud, the more I realized that they weren’t all that great as a combo. If said quickly, Sam and Ella can evolve into Sam ‘n Ella. Then it’s just a short trip to salmonella. Not wanting to name my babies after the bacteria that causes food poisoning, we kept looking.

Luckily, we had two beautiful baby girls—Lucy and Ella. (And it was only a couple of times that someone thought I said Lucy and Ethel.)

Coming up with that perfect name can be a fairly stressful task for expecting parents. So much seems to ride on a person’s name. Does it sound good paired with a powerful handshake? “Nice to meet you. My name is (insert assertive sounding name here).” Or how about: “All rise. The honorable Judge (don’t-mess-with-me name) presiding.”

When I get a chance to do a little creative writing, one of my favorite activities is coming up with characters’ names. For me, it’s the first step in making fictional people real.

Although we place a great deal of weight on naming someone, our names don’t have to forever define us. I love that God takes the time to change the names of some people in the Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (mother of nations) to show that they would have countless descendants. After Jacob wrestles with God, his negative name changes from “supplanter” (he would unseat his twin brother) to Israel which means “triumphant with God.”

Jesus gave James and John the nickname “sons of thunder,” possibly for their fiery tempers. He took one look at the fisherman Simon and changed his name to Peter which means “rock”.

Most of these new names describe what these people would become, not their present situation. God looked into the future to see that Abram and Sarai, a childless couple, would be parents to more children than the stars in the sky. When others saw an impulsive, inflexible, dirty fisherman named Simon, Jesus saw a firm place (a rock) to build his church.

Though it would be impractical to legally change our names to something new, it is possible to redefine who we are with the help of a mighty God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea was exceptionally obedient to God’s calling. He was even willing to live out the most inconvenient morality play in human history. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and give their children specific names to describe God’s displeasure with the Israelites. Their first child was named after a massacre that occurred in a place called Jezreel. The next two children were named Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). That’s pretty harsh.

But our merciful God didn’t leave it there. In the next chapter the Lord explains that He will pursue His sinful people. “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’”

If you feel that your name is Unloved or Unwanted, allow God to change your name and your heart. It is in His power to do it.