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Monday, May 24, 2010

What's in a Name?

A good name is to be chosen rather than great wealth,
good favor more than silver or gold (Prov. 22:1).

As my wife and I are waiting for Kid No. 4 to enter the world this fall, it’s back again to the question of what to name him or her.  There are a bunch of approaches one can take to this, one of which is perusing name books (or today, websites) for a name that not only sounds decent but has a deep, old, dead-language meaning that suits your child.  The idea is that the meaning of the name, even if no one knows it, will actually affect the child, and the child will grow into it.  As impossible as that seems, we all know eerie cases where that’s what seems to happen.

As readers of the Bible know, this was a very important concept to the ancient Israelites (and traditional peoples generally), and the Bible is replete with examples of significant, prophetic names, from Abram (“exalted father”)/Abraham (“father of many”) to Joshua-Jesus (“Yahweh saves”).  But the Bible doesn’t just talk about how a name impacts the person who wears it but also how a person impacts their name.

Names take on the meanings of the people who carry them.  It is not unusual for parents to name their child David or John, but it is exceedingly rare to find a child named Cain or Judas.  But this doesn’t just apply to biblical names.  Have you found that there are names that for you have the permanent scent of someone who carried it—a beloved grandparent, an old flame, a bitter enemy—so that you cannot hear the name, even if borne by someone else, without the aroma of the old relationship floating back?

When you leave someone’s life, how does your name smell?  First, does it smell like anything, or have you lived a life of such unimpactive blandness that it leaves no trace?  If your name does bear a permanent scent to the people who knew you, what is it?  Most importantly, does your name smell like Jesus?  Because if you are a Christian, you carry Christ’s name.

We can’t completely determine whether people like our smell.  For example, I can’t stand the smell of cooking sauerkraut, but that’s not the sauerkraut’s fault; it’s just being itself.  It’s the fault of my nose, which differs from the noses that like sauerkraut.  Likewise, Paul writes,  “[God] makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place.  For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing—to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life.  And who is adequate for these things?” (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

You can’t determine whether your name is considered good by everyone you meet.  You can choose for your name to leave the same impression as the name of Jesus, whether those impressed know it or not.  And to God, for eternity, you will have a good name.

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