Romeo and Juliet had a short discussion on the power of a name, as it was their very names that were tearing them apart. Juliet decided that names do not matter, stating, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But would it? Would a rose smell just as sweet if it were called “vomit”? In other words, does a name make us or do we make a name?
One thing we see in the Bible is that names are important to God. God makes Himself known to man through His many names. His names reveal aspects of Himself. These names are important because they come with a promise of His character; a snapshot of the face of God. God gave His Son the name of Jesus, meaning the Lord is my salvation, the name by which we find salvation (Romans 10:13). When people call on the name of the Lord, they are calling on all of the power and authority that comes with His name, such as when Jeremiah cries out, “O Lord, do something for the sake of your name” (14:7, NIV). When people praise the name of the Lord, they are magnifying all of the great and awesome traits of the Lord. A name is more than just a sequence of letters. It is designed to be a person’s essence, and God is definitely true to His name.
But are people as true to their names as He is? Some definitely are. If you watched any of the Olympics this year, you probably noticed a man named Usain Bolt. Here’s a hint – he is not famous for knitting. He is widely regarded as the fastest man in the world. Or take Maximilian, once emperor of Mexico. He was famous for his millions in wealth. JV Chamary of Focus Magazine argues that one’s name can affect everything in a person’s life, from school, to career, to love. Chamary’s article shows how our perceived stereotypes of names can affect how we view ourselves and how others view us. Names can have a self-fulfilling prophecy, where a name is perceived a certain way and then that person is treated differently or behaves differently due to the perception. Again, none of the studies are definite proof of how a person’s life will look, but it is worth taking into consideration.
Many of the people throughout the Bible lived up to their names, whether for good or for bad. John the Baptist, whose name means “God is gracious”, certainly was a picture of the grace of God to the people of Israel in being the forerunner of the Christ. Joseph, which means “may God give increase,” was blessed by God amidst imprisonment and betrayal. Ruth, whose name means “friend”, showed true friendship and loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi. In addition, there were several places where God changed people’s names when He changed their lives. When God promised to make Abram the father of many nations, even while he had no children, God changed his name to Abraham, meaning “father of many nations.” Later, when Jacob wrestled with God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, moving him away from his past as a “supplanter” and toward the promise of being a “prince of God.” God changed names, in these instances, to serve as a promise of what He would do in people’s lives. In the New Testament, God changed Saul’s name to Paul upon his conversion. Paul means “little” and he would go on to pen the words, “Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). Paul certainly became “little” by the world’s standards so that he could take hold of something much greater than himself.
One article in Psychology Today talks about how many people believe that they “grow into their names,” finally feeling like they have reached adulthood when they have properly grown into their name. This is an interesting phenomenon; a baby may not come close to reflecting his name, but that the name will mold the person throughout his life, as the person allows himself to be molded by the name, until the person truly does reflect his name.
What does your name mean? Do you know? Does it describe you at all? Are you growing into your name? And what about your children or your future children? What will their names mean? A name may not determine everything in life, but it is important. Prayerfully consider what you will name your children as you commit them to the Lord.
There are some beautiful truths in this phenomenon of “growing into one’s name” that readily connect with Christianity. When a person puts his trust in Christ Jesus, he becomes a Christian, a “little Christ.” He is immediately given this new name, just as he will later be given a new name (Revelation 3:12). The new Christian is no longer of himself, but he is found “in Christ.” And, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). This amazing transformation is not immediate, for at this point God has only just begun His sanctifying work in the new Christian’s life, but the name change is immediate. Just as God gave Abram the new name of Abraham before he was ever a father, so God gives us a new name of Christian before we have reached perfection. This is because our God sees us as we will one day be and not as we are now. Our God will be faithful to grow us into our new name. He is “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17, NIV). What a gracious God we serve who has given us a new name and a new life!