what's in a name?

As my wife and I anticipate the birth of our second child we find ourselves immersed in the project of picking names (we don’t know the gender). The resources at our disposal are immense and oftentimes overwhelming - books, websites, and opinion after opinion. At times name-picking is an arduous task, with endless dislike or disagreement. Yet there are also moments when the process is quite fun, even comical.

Take “David” for example (no, there will not be a David Jr. if the baby is boy!):
  • David remains a consistent favorite, as high as #15 in popularity.
  • Origin: Hebrew/Biblical
  • Meaning: “beloved”
  • Nicknames: Dave, Davy, Doftja (low-German for "little David")
  • Suggested sisters: Karen, Deborah, Diana, Susan, Kathy
  • Suggested brothers: Michael, Stephen, Alan, Mark, Daniel
  • Random: David is a death row name; a name for smart kids (yes!); future Olympian (curling?); workoholic (uh-oh!); charmer.
For fun, check out the random baby name generator. A few of my “favorites” were Hooper, Chet, and Ugo (boys) and Platt, Welby, and Poppy (girls).

All this naming has gotten me thinking, what’s in a name?

We picked Landon for our son mainly because we liked the sound, not because of its meaning (“long hill or grassy meadow”) or history (e.g. Michael Landon). For others, the meaning or history of a name is central (especially true in the biblical narrative). You know, the third son on the husbands side of the family has to have a capital "T" in their middle name - or something like that. It’s a big deal!

Names also carry with them associations, both positive or negative depending on who we’ve met or heard of with a certain name. When I hear “Stanley” I think of the theologian I wrote my Masters thesis on. I like the name (Julie does NOT!). Oh well :-).

But I don’t think it’s beneficial to over-analyze names and the whole naming process (some would disagree). It’s just so different for everyone. Yet there is something powerful about the process of naming - this gift from a parent to a child that will last a lifetime (most times).

Which is why I think God’s act of naming in the Bible is such a central characteristic to God’s action in the world. Christians believe that salvation is not something we attain through our own doing, but is God’s gift to us. In the biblical story, we see how God’s initiates - God calls individuals, oftentimes changing their names to reflect this calling (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Peter, and Paul). And while most of our names don’t reflect such a dramatic calling, there is one name - or label - that God gives to all of us which reflects who we are:
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Whether you’re a Bob, a Michelle, a David, a Brayden, or even a Hooper or Poppy, your name itself may be insignificant or trivial. The fact your are called a child of God, however, is anything but insignificant or trivial.

What’s in a name? At times, not much. At other times, everything.

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