What’s In A Name?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that my sisters are popping out babies fast enough to exhaust the alphabet this year. Names and all their meanings have been on my mind, lately.

Names have always been associated with identity. Native Americans are the most obvious example, naming their children after the seasons in which they were born or aspirations for them to grow into great hunters.

It’s seen over and over in the Bible, too. Jacob’s name meant “deceiver”, and he lived up to it. When he was a young man, he collaborated with his mother to deceive his blind father into giving him the greatest portion of the inheritance and the birthright that belonged to his older brother.

Our names define us. They single us out in a crowd, they identify us for all kinds of legal procedures; they designate our legacies long after we’re gone. So it’s not surprising that in the Bible, when God did big things in someone’s He often changed their name. Jacob is a perfect example.

Giving someone a name is a sign of intimacy. Though not a legal procedure, as people become close and develop a unique relationship, it’s not uncommon for them to bestow nicknames on each other. Sometimes, that nickname takes over and forms the identity of one person to another and no one else can use that special title.

Think of a father who named his daughter in the birthing room. But as she aged, they bonded over daddy-daughter dates, popsicles and fishing. Now, he calls her something new, a name with special significance, something no one else understands, something no else can say. When she hears that name, she instantly knows the one who summons her, and she runs into his arms.

Revelation 2:17 says, “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

I think that’s our Heavenly Father’s promise of a greater intimacy with Him than we have ever known. His love for us and knowledge of us far surpasses any human relationship. And one day, He will whisper that precious nickname that He has called you from the very start.

Names Have Been Changed to Identify the Righteous

“I love everything about her life!”

The barista’s comment startled me as I left Starbucks. I knew she was talking about me. We had just been giggling together, discussing our dogs and exchanging first names.

I almost turned around said, “No you don’t! You don’t know anything about my life!” But instead, I just smiled to myself and walked into the sunshine. I think I know what she loves about my life, it’s what she can see. I pray she can see that God has blessed me with joy and a peace beyond understanding.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to spot a girl across the room and wish to trade her places. I used to pray each night that God would just kill me because I didn’t want to do my life anymore. In the midst of a 15 year battle with anorexia and a troubled marriage, it seemed as if my life couldn’t get any worse. I even feared that my loved ones had given up on me after pouring thousands of dollars into my treatment, only to still see a starving, depressed woman.

Looking into my heart, I hated what I saw. I perceived my identity as intrinsically linked to my long list of failures.

Maybe Jacob did, too. The Biblical character of Genesis lived up to his given name, “Deceiver”. In fact, when God asked him in chapter 32, “What is your name?” Jacob was forced to reply, “I am Deceiver.”

At that point in Jacob’s life, he believed the end was near. In mere hours, he would be face-to-face with a man who once wanted to kill him. Already, Jacob had a long list of mistakes to feel guilty for. I wonder if Jacob hated who he had become.

But God is in the business of changing identities. Over and over throughout the Bible, when God did a massive work in someone’s life, He also changed their name, giving them a new identity, a new way to refer to themselves, a new way to see themselves and a new way to present themselves to the world.

For Jacob, God told him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob. You have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won. That’s why your name will be Israel.”

Another definition of the name Israel is, “Prince of God”.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, our identity changes too, when we accept Jesus as our salvation. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

Isaiah 62 tells us that God changes our name to reflect the new identity that we receive when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus for us and the gift of His righteousness to us.

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

As I sank into a chair on the patio at Starbucks, the sun’s afternoon rays painted my feet a soft yellow, then shadows encroached and swept me into the early evening hours. I smiled again. I love who I am. I love the one who gave me His identity in Christ, and I dearly love the name, Jesus.