Saturday, February 03, 2007

What's in a Name

To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.

-Revelation 2:17, NASB

Have you ever wondered about that new name and why it is known only to the one who receives it?

I for one am looking forward to my new name. I really do like my existing name(s). For years, friends agreed that there really was no other name for me but my given name. Yet when I rechristened myself Anna Venger they had to smile and admit I had chosen well. Nevertheless, I trust God to choose better.

Names in our culture do not carry the same significance as they have historically so the purpose of a new name escapes us in a way that it is doubtful it would have escaped those who have gone before. Names were meaningful, sometimes prophetic, and in some cultures thought to give the knower power over the known.

The Bible, for example, demonstrates the attitude of ancient peoples towards their names. God Himself changed the names of some of His followers because names have significance: Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of many), Sarai to Sarah (princess), Jacob (he grasps the heel, or he deceives) to Israel (he struggles with God), Saul (asked for, prayed for) to Paul (small, humble), and Simon to Peter (rock), for example. Names were derivatives of root words which were often descriptive of the bearer. Esau was so named because he was hairy. Naomi (pleasant) changed her own name to Mara (bitter) because of the hurtful experiences she had had in losing her sons and husband. In addition, names were sometimes prophetic of the bearer. Ruth sounds like friend and she was certainly the best friend that Naomi had ever had. Peleg (division) was so named because in his days the earth was divided. Also, the angel told Joseph to name Mary's son Jesus (Lord saves) because He would save His people from their sins.

Some peoples have believed that knowing a person's name would give one power over that person. Bruchko(Bruce Olson) was a young man who had been captured by the Motilone Indians in South America, lived out the gospel among them, and led them to faith in Christ. This tribe believed names were very special and gave power over a person. Each new baby would be given two names upon birth. One would be the child's public name by which all the rest of the tribe would address him and know him. But he would also have a secret, private name that only his immediate family and those elite few with whom he chose to share would ever know. They believed only those who knew that private name would ever be able to exert any real power over him. Bruchko had become close friends with the tribal leader's son. The deeply touching moment came one day when they were walking together and he solemnly told Bruchko his true name. Bruchko understood that this revelation demonstrated the depth of friendship and trust he felt toward him. He was willingly giving Bruchko his name and the power of a true friend over him.

Today we choose names more for auditory appeal. Yet there is still an element of power associated with knowing a person's name. Consider the effectiveness of "Hey, you!" when trying to get someone's attention versus calling him by name. By way of example, once my mother and I were at a large flea market. We had become separated, but I saw her a short distance from me. "Mom! Mom!" I called repeatedly to no avail. Then finally I called out her name and she instantly snapped to attention and turned toward me.

Another time, a youth had aggravated me. He hadn't done anything criminal, mind you, but he had disrespected me and, in a Clint Eastwood mood, I was not about to let him get away with it. Yet I didn't know his name to hold him accountable for his ill behavior and he was not about to give it to me. Fearing I would not be able to locate him again, I decided to follow him until I found out his name. He noticed I was following him and turned to me. I announced to him in no uncertain terms, "I have no where else that I have to go and nothing better to do but to find out
your name." At that point he broke into a run and I sprinted after him, weaving in and out of the crowd, until he rounded a corner with me in hot pursuit and I saw what I needed--someone I knew would identify him. "His name! I want his name!" I shouted and gesticulated. Now I had the power I needed. And I made sure he appropriately suffered for his insolence.*

Another time, I was moved on a gurney to a holding area not far from the nurses' station following an emergency procedure. Still heavily sedated, I lay there awaiting a room for the night. Beside me on another gurney was an elderly man. He must have felt miserable because he kept crying "Nurse! Nurse!" while the nurses would walk on by, indifferent to his suffering. I felt bad for him, imagining his level of discomfort that would cause him to cry so insistently and pleadingly. After a time-- out of a mixture of mercy and self-preservation, as he was starting to annoy-- I decided to take matters into my own hands. Though horribly groggy, I concentrated all my energies on the nurses' station until I had the information I sought--the name of one of the bustling nurses. I awaited my opportunity. When she finally came close enough, I called out her name as strongly as I could. She snapped to attention --unable to ignore someone calling her specifically by name. With my newfound power, I beckoned her to come to me. Motioning to the man beside me, I informed her, "That. man. needs you." She turned to him and for the first time listened to him and attended to him, and we both could finally be at peace.

Sometime later, quite irritated that I was still stuck in that open area on a gurney, I used my power once again to summon her to me to inform her that if she could not find me a room quickly then she was to contact my family to come and get me and take me home---I would be checking out. If I had not known her name, I would no doubt have remained the rest of the night, such as it was, in that holding area, until my people, who believed I was receiving better care there at the hospital than at home, would return for me.

These are the things I think of when I contemplate receiving a new name from my Lord one day---one known only to Him and to me. What name He will give me, I have no clue. Surely it will have some meaning to Him and to me, but what I cannot begin to imagine since I'm not sure what He sees in me, one who has failed Him so often. Yet I take it on faith that He chose me out of His good pleasure and no longer argue with Him over His lack of wisdom in so doing as I now understand that His wisdom is beyond my comprehension. Of course, there are those who have told me that I'm special, but I'm not at all sure they meant it as a compliment. But He apparently thinks that I am and that new name represents to me a time when all the distractions and temptations that beckon to me will no longer exert influence over me because I won't respond to "Psst....Hey, you!"and they won't know who I am. Only God will know my name and turn my head and have power over me. Temptation, sin, death, and fear will be only distant memories.

*Anonymity makes some stories so difficult! I have had to withhold information that would make my actions and the importance of follow through on my part more comprehendible--which is an accepted spelling of the word although Firefox doesn't like it.

Come see the 28th Carnival of Blogging Chicks for more stories.

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At 2/04/2007 2:09 AM, Blogger CyberCelt said...

Great post. I was raised Catholic and we take another name at confirmation.

Our names are powerful. My name is Eileen and it means "light" in Gaelic. My Internet alias is CyberCelt and I felt it merged my Irish background with the web.

As long as the Lord knows my name, I will answer to any.

Here from BC Carnival.

At 2/04/2007 12:12 PM, Anonymous Karmyn said...

I have always wondered about the power behind names.... because sometimes I meet people who have the same name and their personalities are the same. (most Jennifers seem to be alike).

I tried to be careful when choosing my children's names. Especially when it comes to what other people will think. A child named Maria will have a different first impression than one named Apple.

At 2/04/2007 12:45 PM, Blogger Gattina said...

The problem is YOU don't choose your name, it's your parents and if you want to change it you get into a lot of troubles legally. You always keep the name you have been given for the administration. If you choose your own name, then it's only private. I didn't choose my name, but I choose the name of our son. We found his name very nice, he askes us "Why did you call me ..." you see tastes are always different !

(from BC carnival)


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