Monday, September 03, 2007

What's in a name?

Everyone has a name. This name may be ordinary and commonplace, such as Andrew, Matthew, Amy, or Megan, or it may be completely different and obscure, such as Drusilla or Oddmund.
If a name is not recently invented, it probably has a meaning to it. For example, according to, Jacob was the most popular boys' name in 2006, and it means "holder of the heel", or "supplanter". The most popular name for girls was Emily, which means "rival". My own name, Matthew, means "Gift of God".
I have wondered for a long time whether the the meanings of our names actually hold any value. My name means "Gift of God", so am I a gift of God? I would like to think so.
However, the meaning of the name itself is the second most important thing. The most important thing about having a name is that it bestows value upon the named. A name is a sign of value and worth because it separates the named from other things similar to it. In nature, we name the biggest and neatest rocks, but we refer to the smaller, ordinary ones by their familial name (e.g. a piece of shale). We name our pets, but not every dog or cat has been given a proper name. However, every human being has a name. This means that every person is unique and has worth.
I read a sci-fi book as a child where there was a species of intelligent beings who had a very interesting take on names. Translated into human names and ideas, it looks like this: When I was born, I was called Human. When I became an adult, I earned the right to be called Neufeld. By distinguishing myself among my peers, I earned the right to be called Matthew. And when I do something that affects the whole world for the greater good, I will earn the right to refer to myself as "I".
This is an interesting system, although I cannot see it working for humans, but the idea that we would start as all the same, and gradually "make a name for ourself" by doing bigger and better things. In this example, a name is directly linked to self-worth and accomplishment.
Do we need names? I do not know whether humans actually need names, or whether names are strongly desired, but I know that humans are not hive-mind drones - we think and work for ourself. This makes us different from each other, so maybe a name is necessary to reinforce our individuality.
Now, back to meanings in names. Does the meaning of our name speak to the core of who we really are? Does the meaning of our name matter? Can a parent define what their child is going to be like simply by naming their child?
One thing that I remember from my teen emo/existentialist times is how the meaning of my name was always a beacon of hope. In the times where I was feeling down and like I did not matter, I was sometimes reminded of the meaning of my name - "Gift of God". I took this as a reminder that I was valuable, and that I was loved, because I knew that a gift from God was a very precious thing indeed. I know that this is only my example, but the meaning of my name seems to me to be an indicator of what I can be. I am worth something, so I should make a name for myself. I am loved, so I should love in return.
I could go on, but I won't for sake of time. I will, however, leave with this verse. Revelation 2:17 - He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Our name now represents who we are. This white stone represents who we can be. Let us overcome, so that we may be worthy of our true name.