Friday, December 16, 2011

What's In a Name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately.

For one, Joel and I have been periodically brainstorming names for the upcoming arrival of our new baby. We aren’t going to find out the baby’s sex, so we need to come up with a boy’s name and a girl’s name. Naming a baby, a baby we will have just met, is very challenging.

The first issue is that there are two people picking a name—two people with different opinions. Many of the names I have loved for years have been vetoed. Many of the names Joel likes have been scorned. I suppose, however, that as frustrating as this is, you have to eventually narrow down a list of names to one or two anyway.

There are a lot of politics involved with baby names. For example, one question all parents-to-be ask themselves is, “Should we tell people what we are going to name our baby?” Some think this is a good idea—that telling others about their baby name is placing “dibs” on that name so no one else takes it. Others prefer to keep the name quiet, for that same reason—so that no one accidentally repeats the name and then somewhere along the line, someone else uses the name. Some figure, “Well, we’ve picked our name, so why not tell people? That won’t change anything” while others reason, “I want to surprise people with our baby’s name!”

Following the above issue is the question of how far removed should someone be from you for you to justify using the same name, if you really like the name? Acquaintance? Someone you’ve never met?

Parents-to-be need to ask themselves a lot of questions, such as:

·         Do I want a popular or an unpopular name?
·         Do I want a standard or unique spelling of the name?
·         How does the first name sound with the last name?
·         How could kids potentially use the name to pick on my son/daughter?
·         How does the name sound with my other kid’s name?
·         Do I like the meaning of the name?

Moreover, it’s always a good idea to have some names in mind months or perhaps years in advance so that you can find out whether the name stands the test of time. If you like the name 9 months after you pick the name, chances are it’s a suitable name.

As stressful as all of this sounds, these daunting challenges have started to look somewhat trivial to me over the past week. Why? Well, as a lover of medieval fantasy, I have had my nose in a fantastic book called Inheritance by Christopher Paolini. This author has created a fantasy world, in some ways comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth (but with many differences)—you know, elves, dwarves, humans, etc. Anyway, one of the concepts Paolini has incorporated into his world is that everyone has both a given name and a true name. Their given names are just that—names given to them at birth.

Their true names carry a different meaning altogether: each character has a true name, but many don’t know their own true name, let alone anyone else's. If anyone discovers their own true name, they have no choice but to guard that information with their lives, for if anyone else discovers someone’s true name, they could use it against them, controlling them or manipulating them because someone's true name represents the very essence of that person.

The protagonists, in Inheritance, need to figure out what their true names are. Naturally, as I was reading, I started wondering what my true name is.

Now, you are probably wondering, what comprises one’s true name?

Well, it’s not just one or two words, like given names. True names could be a sentence or two long, and must explain someone’s essence—that person’s strengths and flaws, inner character, and perhaps might describe where that person came from or where that person is going.

Of course, we aren’t living in Christopher Paolini’s fantasy world, but I still wondered if discerning our true names might be a helpful exercise in understanding who we truly are.

I have also been reminded of the many names that God has: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (among others). I wonder what names God has for us?

What about you? What are your strengths and your flaws? Where have you come from? What have you endured? How has this changed you? How have you grown and developed through life? Where are you going? What is your destiny? What is your character and personality? What has God planned for you? What are the gifts God has given to you?

As you can see, all of a sudden the profound nature of selecting a given name for my baby means much less to me than what God has already named, predestined and purposed for my baby. Our true names are of much greater significance.

Given names are still fun to sift through and deliberate, but I suppose Shakespeare said it best in Romeo and Juliet:

“What’s in a name? A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.”

“Rose” is the sweet-smelling flower’s given name in English; however, the essence of the rose (what it looks like, how it grows and blooms, what is smells like, what it means to us) supersedes the arbitrary four-letter word that we use to refer to it.

You are much more than your given name, or even its meaning; you have a name created by God that describes your very essence.