In our culture today, names have less and less meaning. Educators can often easily tell which baby names were the trendiest in certain past years based on their class lists. Websites that help parents choose names for their soon-to-be-borns include trend trackers based on public record research and which names are most searched for on their sites. While these sites often include what the name means (although there is often some discrepancy depending upon which site you search), that is often not a primary reason for choosing a name for the offspring. I think we’re losing something important here.
I come from a region of the country where a person’s name often originated deep in the roots of the family tree. For instance, I was named after my great-grandfather, a man who was universally respected and revered in my family, so giving me both his moniker as well as his nickname (the name most of you know me by) was bestowing me with both a great meaning and a great honor. Likewise, our eldest received his name as a combination from my grandfather and Aryn’s grandfather – again, men who were deeply loved. It was not unusual for children to be named after a beloved ancestor in those north Georgia mountains, even if that name was somewhat archaic. After all, chances were you would be given a unique nickname: Fuzz, Pug, Goose, Doc, Booger, or Mason Jar, to name a few of the more colorful ones. Each one of those had a meaning, as well…sometimes good, sometimes bad.
In biblical times, names had tremendous importance, because they were chosen to reflect the importance of this new life in the family. Sometimes the name would reflect thankfulness to God (Samuel, the great prophet and last of the judges, means “heard of God,” based on his mother Hannah’s prayer); other times it would be tied to an event (Jacob means “he takes by the heel” or “he cheats,” based on the events of his birth). There are even instances where God commands a person be given a specific name in order to be a witness to what He is doing (Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means “the spoil speeds,” received his name in order to declare judgment on Damascus and Samaria [Isa. 8:3-4]). Of course, the most important name is that of Jesus (“God saves;” cf. Matt. 1:21), because His is the only name under heaven by which anyone may be saved (cf. Acts 4:12).
You may have been given a name that has a rich meaning and history within your family, or your folks may have chosen one that just sounded good to them (or you might be like a student I once had in my early years of teaching: Dusty Farmer). But if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you now bear His name. Christian, which means “little Christ,” was initially intended to be an insult to first century believers, but that name fits what the Bible says we will be conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29; also cf. Rev. 3:12). What a tremendous privilege! What’s more, there is coming a day when we will be given new names by our Lord (cf. Rev. 2:17). So, what’s in a name? Everything, if you are in Christ. Just something to think about…