Wednesday, January 12, 2011
What's in a name?
Just a short time ago we celebrate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus. God gave Jesus a name. The only real problem is that God did not name His Son Jesus. We kinda messed up that one. It is shocking to us that God would name His Son with an ordinary and common name -- surely He would deserve something exclusive and unique! But He didn't.
Because it is so compact, I simply quote the Wiki paragraph on the name of Jesus: Jesus" (pronounced /ˈdʒiːzəs/) is a transliteration, occurring in a number of languages and based on the Latin Iesus, of the Greek Ἰησοῦς (Iēsoûs), itself a Hellenisation of the Hebrew יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yĕhōšuă‘, Joshua) or Hebrew-Aramaic יֵשׁוּעַ (Yēšûă‘), meaning "Yahweh delivers (or rescues)". "Christ" (pronounced /ˈkraɪst/) is a title derived from the Greek Χριστός (Christós), meaning the "Anointed One", a translation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Messiah).:274-275.
You can follow the links there if you want to know more... The truth is that the name Jesus has about as strange and etymology as does the strange names that began with a recognizable one but have been customized by the parents to make their kid unique and different. The only real difference is that what we did to the name Jesus was not intended by God when He spoke to Joseph about the name He had in mind for His Son and what the parents do to their children's names is intentional. Ah, well, I digress.
Now it seems that the Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration instead. You can read all about it HERE. I once heard a story on NPR about an American woman who gave birth in Germany but had trouble registering the birth because she had chosen a non-traditional name and the Germans have name police that prevents this. I do not know how true this is but being half German and living around full Germans for much of my life, my experience finds this a credible story. So the Pope is German and maybe he comes by this idea naturally. Ah, well, I digress again.
My point here is that names do not have meaning because we attach meaning to them. Names have meaning because they are the means by which we are connected to our culture, to society, and, even, to God. When we try and be cute or weird with the naming of our children, it represents a desire to set them apart when the very purpose of a name is to connect. God gave His name to Moses and this unspeakable name became the trust of a people to follow God's appointed leader to the land of promise. Jesus is given a name because that name means something and Jesus will fulfill the meaning of that name -- He will save His people from their sins. We would do well to remember that names do not belong to the individual who wears them but to the people who speak those names, who identify you, and who use that name to connect and relate to you.
As a Pastor I have baptized some folks with, well, very different names. I have mangled the pronunciation of some very strange made up names and I have spoken these names over the children almost as a question more than a statement because I could not believe that somebody was actually going to saddle their child with this name -- for life. I cannot tell you (in polite company) how awful and vulgar the names are that some folks have either deliberately or unwittingly given their children. See me later about a couple of those stories... And now, since I am old and crotchety, I break my silence and plead with parents to step back and think before you give your child a normal name with an abnormal spelling or an abnormal name with a normal spelling. As St. Paul reminds us, all things may be possible but not all things are beneficial.
You may not like the Pope, a lot of Lutherans don't, but read what he said. He has got a point. It is time to end the madness and give our children solid, sturdy names that connect them and do not cause them to stick out. Names are means of connecting and should not be used as a means of separating.
PS... I have no earthly idea how and where my parents came up with the name "Larry." I had perfectly wonderful family names on both sides to choose from (Eric, Wilmer, Wilhelm, Herman, etc...) but my parents came up with Larry (not Lawrence, Laurence, Lorenz, but simply Larry). My brother fared equally in getting a surprise name. But at least both names are part of the ordinary body of names that are known and recognizable. I will not even begin to explain my middle name nor give it to you here. Suffice it to say that the angst over names I have expressed here is not theoretical but practical.