My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

What's In a Name?

A couple of years ago, Dr. Gene Edward Veith wrote a piece for WORLD Magazine on contemporary trends in naming children. And he offers some interesting insights.

Back in the olden days, people used to give their children names that meant something. Some cultures give names to their children that express some feature or characteristic they hope to see in their child. The American Puritans, for instance, started the practice of naming their children after biblical virtues such as Faith or Hope or Charity. The hippie generation chose dreamy nature names such as River or Autumn. Many Christians through the ages have chosen names either from the Bible or from significant figures in the history of the Church. So saint names such as Joseph or Elizabeth became quite popular. I’m waiting for the day when Christians decide to get really cutting edge and choose names from the ancient church fathers. But I doubt if we’ll be seeing any little Tertullians or Cyprians or Polycarps pitter pattering around here any time soon.

One of the contemporary trends – and this is not a criticism at all, just an observation – is for parents to invent brand new words for the names of their children, not chosen because of what they mean, but for how they sound. So there are all sorts of unique combinations of letters and spellings.

And, to me, the most interesting trend nowadays is when people name their children using the brand names of their favorite consumer products. So according to one researcher, in the year 2000 there were 298 girls named Armani, after the line of designer clothing. Seven boys were named Del Monte, apparently after the canned vegetables. And 21 girls were named L’Oreal, after the hair dye.

The most surprising examples were the two boys, one in Texas and one in Michigan, who were named ESPN after the cable sports network. Their names are really spelled E-S-P-N. I’m told this is pronounced “espen.” Whatever. It’s a free country.

I’m not making any judgments upon how parents choose to name their children, particularly since in our society, if you don’t like your name, once you get to a certain age, you can get it legally changed.

However, it does seem that from God’s perspective, His name is more than just what He wants to be called. When the Lord spoke to Moses through the burning bush to enlist him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was hesitant. He had reservations about whether he could pull it off, so he asked God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you (Exodus 3).'" The Hebrew word for this is YHWH.

And God’s name is special. He wants us to use His name, that is, He wants us to call upon His name in every time of need and He wants us to use His name in prayer, praise and giving thanks. He does not want us to use His name in vain or to turn His holy name into a curse word.

I saw a character in a movie one time who thought that God’s name was Howard. Why did he think it was Howard? Because don’t we say, “Our Father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name?” No, of course not. We say “hallowed” be thy name. To hallow something is not to hollow it. To hallow means to keep it holy. To preserve the sanctity of something. And we keep God’s name holy not just by cleaning up our vocabulary, but also by how we live our lives.

People used to teach their children to behave properly because if they did not, it would bring shame upon the family name. Well, that is pretty much how God feels about it too. You are called Christians, named after Christ. You have been baptized into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. His name is on you. And people are watching you to see how you live. And if you profess to be a Christian, but live like the devil, you bring shame and dishonor to the name of God. You make God look bad.

Another way a person can bring dishonor to God’s name is to teach false doctrine. Any time you attribute something to God which He did not, in fact say, and does not mean, you are putting lies into his mouth. And this is why St. Paul tells young Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1Tim. 4:16).”

And “He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived (Luke 2:21).” Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Y’shua or Joshua. It means “God saves.” That’s what the angel told Joseph before Jesus was born: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).” It is not just what that baby was to be called. It is what that baby would do.

Here is the Veith article.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

New Curriculum at Concordia Theological Seminary