He who has an ear, let him listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it. Revelations 2:17
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. Isaiah 56:5
The Bible is known for being a record of many names, and for referencing God with many names and titles. Many people can trace their names to a person from Biblical lore, or to a Biblical origin.
Some of us have been named before our birth, and some of us eventually acquire a nickname which overshadows our given name. How we are known is one of the most important things about us. When people use our names, we feel a deeper connection than simply being referred to as "hey, you", "miss", "ma'am", "sir", "soldier", or a demeaning word meant to belittle us. Our names are how we are acknowledged as equals, as friends, as loved ones.
Recently I spent time with my brothers, which doesn't happen often because we all live far apart. For a few days, I was called by my childhood (middle) name again. It feels more personal than my first name, which was assigned to me to use in school, and stuck for the rest of what feels like my "public" life. Friends who have spent a lot of time with me would often use both my first and middle names, and that became a more intimate way to be known. It is nice to be called by a special name or nickname to just a few people; it makes us feel included and special.
I have learned by experience that when a person stops calling me by name, there is a distance created. It feels like I am not fully acknowledged, not worthy, not accepted. I wonder what immigrants in the past felt like when the American officials, ignorant of how to spell foreign names, simply assigned new Americanized versions of people's names to their lives in their new country. This not only disrupted their family heritage, it negated their worthiness as their true selves.
For a few years, I was given a named parking space at the university where I work. It began after I had hip surgery, and then the departments where I work part-time somehow kept the sign up so I could continue to park safely during all weather and late-night rehearsals. Eventually, the maintenance department told me they would have to take the sign down unless I cleared it with the new human resources director. It took me some time to actually track down who was perpetually renewing the sign each semester, and I discovered that many people honestly want to make sure I am taken care of. As it is, I easily let go of the designated space because I can use a handicapped space nearby. But I enjoyed so much the feeling that someone had set aside a space for me with my name on it. I enjoy seeing my name on the staff directory inside one of the buildings, and I was so excited, years ago, to walk in on my first day of work to find my nameplate on the office door. Putting a name on something is one way of telling someone "You belong here".
In the Bible, we read about many people whose given names were replaced by God later in life because they had become new in some way, and closer to God. Just as people close to us might have special names for us to let us know we are loved, God has something special to call us, to let us know we belong to Him. We should always know that God calls us by a name that supersedes anything else we might be called, and certainly is powerful than any mocking name someone might try to use against us. God's name always comes down to love and spirit, and, to us, God can be known by any name which honors his loving power.
Prayer: God, whose name is too vast to speak but can only be understood, please give me the name that helps me to know I belong to you. When I use other people's names, help me to let them know that they are unique and special to me. Let me always know that there is a name beyond the given name that each person wants to be called, by those who can truly love that person. Help us all to respect each other's name and protect each other's sense of belonging. Amen.