What’s in a Name?


Do you know what your name means? How about the names of your children? How did you choose your child’s name? Did you do the “let’s name him after our fathers” or “let’s name her after your great aunt” – to keep the family identity thing going?

Some of us were not named after a relative, but after whoever happened to be famous at the time we were born, a movie star, a political figure, a popular singer. Or maybe something that occurred at the time of our birth, like a moonbeam shown in the window, or it was the autumn of the year.

Recently the daughter of a friend had an emergency C-section; the baby boy was delivered 10-weeks early and weighed 2 lbs. 14 oz. The parents had not yet settled on a name for the child. The hospital informed the mom while I was visiting her that she only had 5 days after the birth to name the child or the birth certificate would say “baby Frost” (the couple’s last name).

I cautioned the mom to be careful to check out the meaning of the name before settling it on the child. There is an old saying that people tend to live up to their name – which could be good or bad, depending on the given name.

There’s another saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” It’s just not true. I’ve known people who were called a certain thing so often that they began to doubt their value, their abilities, or their chances in life. Such names as stupid, dumb-dumb, worthless, whore, idiot, sex-offender, trash, nigger, addict, fatty, etc. (which may or may not have been prompted by a personal action that led to the name calling) resulted in a conscious or subconscious negative self-image in the person called by that negative name.

Though many of these people have overcome the stigmas of the names they were called, there often still lurks a shadow of self-doubt in such areas as relationships, career choices, job searches, motivation, dress and physical appearance, attitudes toward people who have achieved more in life, or bad attitudes towards life in general.

Negative names can and usually do produce negativity of some sort in the character, performance, or thinking of the people who have been on the receiving end of those names.

Positive “name-calling” has the opposite effect of building up the person’s self-concept, producing encouragement, and creating people with a positive outlook on life.

But I want to get back to the idea that it makes a difference what we name our children. Names are important. Do you realize that names often have a prophetic meaning?

Throughout the Bible, names had meaning. Names changes were frequent as situations changed. For instance, in the Old Testament book of Ruth, Naomi changed her name to Mara after losing her husband and two sons, which left her a widow with no hope for a better future. Naomi means “pleasant” and Mara means “bitter”. (Ruth 1:20)

Also, in the Old Testament God gave people new names when He singled them out for His purpose. For example, “Jacob” was renamed “Israel” in Gen. 32:28:

“Then He [God] said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Jacob means “he grasps the heel” or figuratively “he deceives”, which Jacob lived up-to when he stole his older twin’s birthright and blessing by deceiving his father, Isaac.  Israel means “he struggles with God”, because Jacob had wrestled with an angel all night – which resulted in a dislocated hip for Jacob, but also a blessing from God. (see Gen. 32:24-30) From Jacob came the 12 tribes of Israel, through his twelve sons – who, by the way, all lived up to their names.

God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham.  Abram means “exalted father” and Abraham means “father of many”.

Gen.17:5  “No longer shall your name be called Abram,but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”

That name change had significance for generations to come, including our own, as most peoples of the Middle East claim Abraham as “father” – both Jews and Arabs.

In the New Testament Jesus changed Simon’s name to Cephas (Aramaic) which translated into Greek is Peter. (see John 1:42) Simon is probably the same as the Old Testament name Simeon which means “he hears”, while Cephas and Peter both mean “rock”. This was not based on what Peter was when he first became a fol lowerof Jesus, but on what he was to become.

To get personal, my birth name is Marcella, which is from Roman origin and means “warlike, martial, and strong”. It could also mean “young warrior”. I certainly lived up to that name as a child and had a tenacious nature to “discuss” until proven right; or if not right, then surely logical. In first grade I changed my name to Marcy because I didn’t like writing out the full name Marcella on my paperwork. It was years later that I found the name Marcy means “brave”. Which I don’t always feel, but my husband says I am.

My husband’s name is David Clark. David means “beloved” – and he definitely is that to me and many others. Clark means “cleric” which also means “pastor” – my husband has been a pastor for the past 20 years.

Finally, there are literally hundreds of instances in Scripture where God’s name was praised. All of God’s various names in the Bible had meaning. People weren’t worshiping  mere words, but the character, the substance, the meaning of those names, which God personifies.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

If you want your children to have a positive self-concept and a good future ahead of them, be careful what you name them and what names (adjectives) you call them. Remind them of what their names mean and how you were led to name them.

For those who are Spirit-born followers of Christ, even if your birth name or the name you earned by the way you lived are not “good” names, the Scriptures say that God has a new name for you in heaven. And He sees you in the light of that new name, not the name of our old nature.

What about your name? Are you living up to it? And if you call yourself a Christian, are you living up to the reputation of the one for whom you are named, Christ your Savior?

©2012, Marcy Alves

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About Marcy

I love my Father-God. Together we are walking through a season of my life where I am standing with him against cancer. He is my strength and trust. As one of his daughters, my passion is to share his love with others in practical, everyday illustrations and insights.

Posted on May 6, 2012, in Christian Growth, God Encounters, My Journey, Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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