Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What's your name? - Part 1

When I was in 7th grade, I got a new name. I never really took to it, because it was always spoken with a splash of mockery and derision. That name was "Mayonnaise."

It doesn't look much like my last name, Manis, but when you pronounce it it's pretty close. A bully who shall remain (ironically, given the topic of this post) nameless started using it. Before long, my football coaches picked up on it and were yelling it at me at practice after practice. No, I never liked it.

Names are powerful things, more powerful than we realize. I got to thinking about this during a message from our teaching pastor Sunday morning, where he was talking about how Jesus gave his disciple Simon a new name, Peter. More on that in Part 2 (to be posted tomorrow). But in the wake of that talk, I thought about how often we see the power of the name. For example,

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the names of the two young lovers' families - Montague and Capulet - drive a wedge between them that they could never overcome. From the balcony Juliet tried to deny it ("What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - Act II, Scene II), but by the end of the play, we saw that there was indeed a lot in a name.
  • While not universal, it's customary in our society for women to take the name of their husband when they get married. This has rich symbolism, because if two are going to become one, having a common name says so to the world.
  • In Ethiopia (at least the part I visited), a child's last name is the name of his father. So, if I lived there, instead of Donnie Manis, my name would be Donnie TJ. The name identifies one very strongly with the father.
  • In a recent episode of Revolution, the former President of a vast empire called the Monroe Republic finds his 25-year-old son in a forgotten hole-of-a-town, and reveals that he is his father. The son is not impressed until he reveals his name - Sebastian Monroe. Because of the name, which was well known, the son's whole attitude was changed instantly.
  • When Moses encountered the burning bush and God was calling him to lead his people out of slavery, Moses insisted on being given a name. The name he received, YHWH, was basically the same as the Hebrew for "I am." The most powerful name ever given.
Throughout history, in popular culture, in just about every society,  the name has extraordinary significance. Your name is who you are. It matters. And that's why some name changes in the Bible tell us a lot about what God was doing in the lives of his people. People like Abram. Jacob. Simon. Daniel. Saul.

And Jesus.

Coming tomorrow: Name changes through history - why?

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