Shakespeare once wrote:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…By any other name would smell as sweet.”1
Each of us has a name which we are known by. In America, the African was stripped of ancestral names and given what is known as a slave name; this was typically a European name. If there was a surname, it was that which belonged to the slave master.
My surname is the same as my father and his father’s father. I have no idea what my African tribal name is; I do know that I descended from the area now known as Angola. I have often thought what it would be like to meet those who still live where my ancestors were kidnapped.
I do not really know my father. He calls me from time to time, and we are cordial but our relationship was disconnected when he made the decision to disappear from the life of his family. I do not know any relatives with my surname other than my brothers and those who came after us. I have tried to avoid being a carbon copy of my father because (in my mind) he represented the worst that my name could be.
I’m sure my sons and daughters would acknowledge (if they had to admit it) that they too have tried to avoid being a carbon copy of me; particularly the worst aspects in me.
I believe that as a child, I wanted, desperately wanted to redeem my family name; but I didn't know how. I wanted to make my surname honorable, a source of pride and prestige. When I became a Christain, I learned that the Jews also believed in redemption, that you could buy back anyone or anything which was sold into slavery.
You might wonder why my name was so important to me and all I could say is that, “As a child without a father, I felt ashamed and dishonored.” The strange thing is that very few people call me by my surname. I’ve been called many names in my life (both good and bad) but seldom am I called by my last name. I do feel pride in my name because it was redeemed but there are still inherited traits from my father and his ancestors. I say that because I do things which remind me of him. I am distant with others not because I don’t like people; I suppose I found security in personal solitude. When I am around others, I believe I am quite sociable; but you would have to ask others who know me that question.
God is called many names too (some good and some bad) but there is one name God is known as which has always made me aware of the immense greatness of who He is: Jehovah
The nation of Israel was so careful in speaking the name Jehovah that they would remove all vowels and only pronounce the consonants. The name JHVH was spoken with fear, awe and reverence.
For the Jew, to say the name of the Lord God served as a reminder to be thankful because the word Yah meant to breathe. Each time the name of the Lord God was spoken; the Jew was reminded that the breath of God was in him. So he would say JH (Yah) VH (veh) (that is, Yah-veh). Literally it means the life of God exists within me as I move and breathe.
Abraham’s original name was Abram (Ab-rawm’) which means high father or father of height (i.e., lofty). This could be interpreted as one who honors his father as the firstborn son or one of physical size. Since birthright (as the firstborn son) or size was preferable and honorable to a father, this would have been an honor to Abram’s father (Terah). It is possible that as an adult, the name Abram served as a reminder that he was childless. In Abram’s day, having a son was most important because it meant the continuation of the family. Being childless meant that his name, his life, his family history would cease with Abram but God changed that.
God added a syllable to Abram’s name Ha (haw). The Hebrew word Ha means behold or look and see what I do now. God breathed life into Abram’s body and changed him to Abraham (Ab-raw-hawm’), meaning father of a multitude.
“Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.”2
I may never know what my African tribal name is but each day I am reminded to behold, look and see what I do now for you; (by the syllable) Ha. Each day, I discover how gracious God is towards me and those in my life. I can never praise Him enough for His goodness. My surname was given to a slave; physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Through the grace of God, my surname and my life was redeemed by Christ.
In Hebrew, the word Yehovah (Yeh-ho-vaw’) comes from the word hayah (haw-yaw’). Yehovah is (the) self-Existent or Eternal One. Hayah means, to exist, that is be. He who is, was and ever will be.
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord (Jehovah) I did not make myself known to them.”3
“Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…”4
The New Testament Greek form of the word Jesus is Iesous (Ee-ay-sooce’) is the name of our Lord. It comes from the Hebrew word Yehowshuwa (Yeh-ho-shoo’-ah) which means, Jehovah saved.
You may have never given much thought to what your name means; perhaps you have. I want you to know God has placed a value on you and your name. Through Jesus Christ, God redeemed you and your name from the slavery of sin and death. When you breathe, it is by the breath of the Lord God, Jehovah. When you move, it is by the power of the Lord God, Jehovah. You have existence (life) by the Self-Existent One, Jehovah.
“For in Him we live, and move and have our being…”5
No matter what anyone has told you, names are important; they represent
- Love and
Many people have been able to trace their family history back for generations and in some instances, hundreds of years. One's family history can offer a glimpse into the past as to the character and behavior of those who preceded you. Sometimes, family history can be stained by the lives of ancestors with questionable character. We all recognize the stain of one's name when associated with something bad. The names Hitler, Stalin, Capone, Gacy, Amin and Mussolini are names most of us readily identify as men who caused great suffering and pain. For the Christian, our history is intertwined to the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
It is through identification that we answer the question: Who am I? How I live my life is often characterized by my identity. The alcoholic is identified by his uncontrollable need to drink. The abuser is identified by his need to instill fear and pain. In Christ, we learn of His compassion, love, service and obedience. Identifying with Christ will be characterized by His reflection in our life.
Often, we are deceived into believing we don't matter; that we're insignificant. But the truth is that God sacrificed His only Son for you; Jesus willingly died on a cross for you. That indicates that God places great value on you. The reality is that before you existed, The All-Knowing God thought enough to value you; He still does today.
When I think about integrity, I think of someone who is true to their word. What you say matters, so if your words are not bonded by integrity, then it says, "My word means nothing. My word is empty and worthless." God's word cannot fail because He upholds it with integrity. My word has failed me (and others) more times than I can count, but I'm realizing how important it is that my words have integrity. Learning to be faithful to God teaches me to uphold what I say.
I was reading another blogger writing about confession and one of the comments stated that too often Christians will run you down if you confess your faults. But should our actions be governed by what others say or do? I think it helps to have trusted friends whom we can share our lives with and not fear rejection. We all have faults, I am learning to be honest about mine.
God is love. When I ponder that truth, I realize how much grace He extends to me in my life. It is as if I'm in the ocean drifting and God casts me a lifeline. But before I can reach it, I drift even further away. But God loves me to such an extent that His lifeline of grace extends to where I am. That is the character of God's love for each of us; an unconditional love. I wish I could love unconditionally; I try, but so often I fail. Still, I won't give up because God hasn't given up on me. I will learn to love unconditionally.
A farmer hopes for an abundant crop. A child hears a familar sound and hopes the ice cream truck will drive down his street. Each of us has hopes we want to realize. The Christian hopes in the resurrection. A hope that one day I will stand before my Saviour and hear Him say, "Well done good and faithful servant." Being a Christian gives one hope. Hope that we can give, serve and love better than we did. Hope that God will strengthen me to face the challenges of each day. Hope that I will bring glory to God by exemplifying the life of Christ.
Whatever your ancestors were, no matter what you felt, thought or did, your name and your life have now become relevant. You are important and significant to the Lord God. The Book of Life contains the names of all those whom the Lord God redeemed. Do not live in the past. Let every breath serve to remind you of the price of redemption. You are different because of Jesus Christ.
What’s in your name? Your name is the representation of your identity. Your identity defines the kind of person you are. Let your name serve as a reminder of the goodness of God and the life of Jesus Christ.
- Romeo and Juliet, Act II, scene 2, Written by William Shakespeare
- Genesis 17:5, KJ
- Exodus 6:3, NIV
- Philippians 2:9-11, NIV
- Acts 17:28, NIV
- Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
- King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
- The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA