Monday, December 08, 2008

What's in a Name?

Yesterday, in the context of our Christmas Series Navel Gazing, we talked about the power of "names." We all have one, some of us like ours, some of us don't. Most of us went through some phase as a child where we wished we were named something else.

I remember one day riding in the car with my mom. I must have been about eight or nine years old. I piped up from the back seat and said, "Mommy, I want my name to be Chris." I'm not sure why I choose this name, other than I had a friend named Chris. Sometimes, it seems, we think if only we bore the same name as another, we would instantly be like them. Interestingly, this type of thinking doesn't cease with childhood, rather it follows us into adulthood, only we graduate from names to clothing brands, car models, houses and neighborhoods.

When the angel came to Mary, he was very specific about what she was to call the child to be. "His name shall be Jesus," the angel declared. The angel had very specific instructions regarding the child's name. For in the name, was a prophetic foretelling of His destiny. It spoke of purpose, calling and substance of life. Notably, throughout all of the Story of Scripture names are significant. Names of people places, even things bear meaning and purpose beneath the surface of the speaking of the syllables.

Often, even today, in a society and culture that often thinks very little of the meaning or etymology of a given name, the meanings of those given names still bear meaning in one's life.

Do you know what your name means? Do your parents? Did they name you what they named you because they knew what your name meant and sensed it would somehow connect to the unfolding of your life?

At the risk of over-spiritualizing matters, for my wife the act of naming our children has been extremely significant. We value the Hebrew culture (and others) that see names as apart of one's make up. We spent considerable time praying for each of our children while they were in the womb. We sought to discern their temperament, their make up, as well as some of God's desires for their life. We by no means got it all nailed down, but for each of them, we gained a greater sense of understanding and insight into their general make-up, temperament, inner-drives and areas that God may very well move them into. As such, we prayerfully looked for names with etymologies that resembled those very things. These names serve to remind us to pray, how to pray and to endeavor to be intentional about raising, training and nurturing each of them uniquely as an individual.

Many of us have picked up "names" along the way. Not those known as our "first" or "last" name, but the internal names we've given ourselves based on our perception of events, circumstances, relationships and family interactions. Often these names flow counter-current to the purposes and calling God has for our lives. These names and labels attach themselves to our minds, body and souls. In these cases, like Jacob, God wants to give us "a new name."

The following is Christina Aguliera's song "Beautiful" creatively translated into ASL by D-PAN (Deaf Performing Arts Network). It powerfully and vividly demonstrates the power of names.

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