What’s in a name?

Names are a big deal to me.

namea word or a combination of words by which a person, place, or thing, a body or class, or any object of thought is designated, called, or known.

One single word that identifies and shapes a person for their entire life. A name is a powerful thing! Through all time, names have been a marked part of cultural and spiritual significance.

We tend to either love our name or hate our name, but we associate deeply with those letters of the alphabet. It gives us place and position and importance. Most of us hate to have our name mispronounced or misspelled, and it’s because it distorts our identity at some level.

Consider the boy whose last name was “Stanky.” This boy allowed himself to be known for his body odor because he was already teased so much for his name, and figured why not live up to it? This boy had many emotional issues due to a rotten last name. True story.

I did some research on naming ceremonies in different cultures. The results are as varied as the names themselves, but I will share a couple.

Among the Khasi people of Africa, children are named within a day of their births. The ceremony begins when a relative of the child prepares a sacrifice by pouring rice meal into small dishes and filling a gourd with rice liquor. After an invocation, the relative pours the liquor into the rice meal while reciting a list of names. The name the child will have is the one the relative recites during the pouring of the drop of liquor that takes the longest to leave the bottle. Once the name is “discovered” in this way, they anoint the baby’s feet with the meal-and-liquor paste, and the parents and relatives eat the paste. Then, after swinging it over the baby three times, the father leaves the group to bury the placenta.*

In Native American tribes, many names are given over the course of a lifetime. A name could describe hope for the baby’s future, a teenager’s tendencies, and an adult’s characteristics. Chief Sitting Bull was known as a boy as “Jumping Badger” and also known as “Slow” before he was given the name we know so well.

So, how much does a name matter?

My name, Alison, was actually the name of my grandfather! Yes, you read that right, grandFather. My mother’s dad was named Allison Eugene and known as Al. I am very proud to have been named after the man who undoubtedly spent much time praying for his granddaughter. My middle name will not be mentioned as I don’t necessarily love to share that information. Suffice it to say that as much as I hate it, thankfully, it’s not Eugene.
The name Alison means “truthful,” and by golly, I can’t tell a lie to save my life. Yes, I have attempted–I’m no saint, but most who know me well laugh hysterically when I try to pull wool over anyone’s eyes.

Christian has a great story about his name–other than the obvious meaning which draws much attention every time he introduces himself. His dad was NOT in any way a Christian when they were expecting him, and was working construction building a nursing home shortly before he was born. His parents had to fill out a tax form that included their baby’s name. The nursing home had the word “Christian” in the name so guess what the last Kirksey boy was called!? How very interesting that my husband’s name was a part of the truth that spoke Christ-likeness into him long before he was able to fulfill it as beautifully as he now does!

Since our names were of such significance to us, we took very seriously our mission to name our own three well. What’s interesting is that I know now that the names that we chose were laid on my heart and set into my spirit for my children by their Creator because He already knew them, and had planned all of their days. Each of their names is who they are. So what came first the child or the name? The proverbial chicken or the egg?
Some fun facts. All five of us have names that end in the same sound using different vowels. ChristiAN, AlisON, JustIN, AdelYN, and KyrstEN. We stopped with three kids because I ran out of vowels. :o) Well, I guess we could’ve had a little ‘UN’ baby, but that just wasn’t working for me.
Justin’s initials are JAK. Without meaning to, my three kids’ names start with J, A, and K in birth order. Since I didn’t even realize we had done that for several years after I had them, I think God did that to tie them all together with a bond that is just theirs.
Christian and Justin share a middle name, Addie’s middle name is the same as two of her great-grandmothers and the name Kyrsten is the feminine form of the name Christian.

In our house we had a rule that our kids never teased anyone’s names. Like all parents, we tried to think of every way that mean kids could twist our children’s given names and hoped to prevent such problems, so I never wanted my own kids to be the perpetrators of those mean nicknames. So, no matter how tempting, no teasing of names. And we did pretty well with that until Addie’s first boyfriend. But, that is an obvious exception to the rule. He really deserved it. :o)

~Nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive.~ ~Thomas C. Haliburton

I tend to fall into a little bit of name stereotyping. Let’s just say it like this. There are certain names my kids will never name their own children because certain names seem to have certain characteristics associated with them. I will not name those names, but you just start thinking about folks you know who have the same name and just see if you agree. It’s not across the board and I have found that there is always someone I meet who redeems a name. Someone who changes my mind that all, ummm…let’s say, Mortimers are arrogant. Just last week I met one humble Mortimer. Okay, that’s not true. See how badly I lie?

I love the idea of changing a name as one grows. God did that. He changed Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. He also changed Jacob to Israel. These changes were at significant times in those folks’ lives when God used a name-change to symbolize the binding of a new covenant with them.
I wonder what my name would be now if God gave me a new name based on my growth with Him and the new covenant He and I have made. I may have to ponder that. I’ll let you know if He gives me one.

Oddly enough, all this thinking about names came from a sad, but true story. Someone I am very close to recently began working in a restaurant and noticed that one of the regular customers is a local pastor. Since it’s a small town, he is well-known and very recognized. This man also tends to be very rude to the staff. He greets those he knows with a big hug and smile, and then turns and brushes off or speaks rudely to the “hired help.” Come to find out, the after-church crowd on Sundays are the smallest tippers and also very demanding and impatient.
This makes me so very sad. Our collective name is Christian, but we have earned such a poor reputation. Just like a son who sullies his family’s last name by the way he misbehaves, we have virtually ruined the reputation of our Namesake. We act selfish and entitled and like we have all of the answers, and choose not to reflect His character well. I know, that of course, this is not always the case. Christians do an awful lot of good in this world as well, but ask someone who has chosen not to believe as we do what they think of Christians. I would be surprised if the answer was favorable.

~A good name, like good will, is attained by many actions and may be lost by one.~Unknown

I have someone else very close to me who has become friends with someone who would not yet call himself a Christian. He watches the Christians around him closely and on one hand, he is drawn to a God Who is crazy about him, but on another turned off by those who criticize him in the name of Christianity.

This stings, doesn’t it? It should. The “Us-and-Them” mentality has got to go. We are all guilty. We associate with those who we believe to be like-minded and think less of those who do things differently. We say things under the name of Jesus that He never would have said. In fact, the only people that Jesus ever came against were those who were too religious!
The rest of the people He just spent His time loving.
What matters more, fitting into a mold or living out what love looks like?

Because if we call ourselves Christians, our name means “Christ-like.” We are supposed to be a reflection of love and graciousness, kindness and compassion, selflessness and joy. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to live in a mud hut in Africa or sell every possession. It just means that we reflect well. We shine brighter. We give more and judge less.
I want to live up to my name.

*Charles, Lucille Hoerr. “Drama in First-naming Ceremonies.”

Journal of American Folklore 64 (1951)

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