What’s in a Name?

Several years ago, Union Spring Academy, a Christian high school, in upstate New York held a Teen Skills Week. I was asked to be the Chaplain for the week and plan spiritual activities. My topic was DESIGN. We are God’s Masterpiece or Design. I asked them all week, “If you are not who you are, who will be? You are the you there is.” We looked at D= disposition, E= expression, S= Self-Esteem, I= interests, and G= gifts. 

The last topic was N=name. I researched each teen’s name and the meaning. As I shared the meaning with them, it was fascinating to watch their reactions. These teens paid close attention. Learning about their names touched them deeply. One student, in particular, had never heard the definition of his name. His name meant “gift of God.” He kept repeating, “Wow, is that really what my name means?” I imagine he didn’t often feel like a gift and his name affirmed a wonderful truth about who he was. 
The profound import of names is especially true in scripture. Jesus spoke people’s names. He said Martha’s name twice for emphasis. Calling Mary’s name at the tomb allowed her to see who he was. Names provide insight into people’s identity in scripture. A person could be named for:

-An abstract quality like Hannah = grace, and Shua = independent. 

-Nature such as Deborah = bee, and Huldah = weasel. 

-Physical description like Adina = slender and Bashemath – fragrant

-An element from a divine name such as Abijah = my father is Yah (meaning Yahweh), and Elisheba = my God is my oath.

Given how important a name is, it would be good to make a more conscious effort to call people by name. Some suggestions to try:

  1. When you’re at the checkout buying groceries, speak the person’s name. 
  2. On the phone or in person, if you’ve just been introduced to someone, say their name with your greeting and use it in your good-bye. 
  3. Take the time to get the pronunciation right even if you must ask a couple of times.
  4. Look up the meaning of your name and spend some time reflecting and praying about its meaning. 

Isaiah 43:2 is a wonderful promise that whatever our name, we are named after God and belong to Him. Read it aloud and put your own name in the blanks to take the place of the names in the parentheses. 

But now, O ______, listen to the Lord who created you.
_____, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.”

What does your name mean? What experiences have you had regarding names?

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