Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's in a Name?

Recently Coca-Cola® unleashed an ingenious media campaign in which they printed people’s names on the labels of Coke® bottles and invited people to “Share a Coke® with …..”  Not only were people searching for their own names, but they were purchasing bottles for their friends.  Some people were initially disappointed as unique names were unlikely to be printed, but Coca-Cola® came through yet again, allowing you to send a virtual custom Coke® to all of your friends, and placing special machines in various locations that would allow you to buy a custom printed bottle.  As my name was the most popular name for girls in the year I was born, I never had to worry about not finding personalized items with my name on them when I was a child.  But I did have to worry about what the teacher would decide to call me as there were always at least three Jennifers in my classroom each year.

Our names are important.  They give us our first sense of identity; they show our belonging.  As people come to know us, they give us nicknames to show their connection to us or to reveal something of our character.  As we grow, we are said to “make a name for ourselves”.  We build our reputation based on how we show who we are to others.  They know us by our name and by the choices we make.  Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”

When I worked with youth, one of my favorite Bible study activities was to look at the significance of names in the Bible.  Names are given to explain family connections or to describe traits (such as “hairy” or “red” Esau and “cheater” Jacob).  Many of the names show connection to God.  I love the stories of when God changes someone’s name to show a pivotal event has taken place: Jacob wrestles with God and becomes Israel; Saul hears God’s voice on the Damascus road and becomes Paul.  After looking up the meaning of various biblical names, we would then turn to our own names.  I would ask if the students knew the story of their names.  Some would share about being named after a relative or a favorite character in a book or TV show.  Many did not know the meaning or story of their name.

I was consumed with the thought of names during both of my pregnancies.  I kept lists that were frequently updated, with vetoes or additions from my husband.  We went through hundreds of names in baby name books.  With our names being John and Jenny, I wanted something unique, but not too difficult or obscure.  I wanted something that would suit them, but how would we know when we had not yet met them?  In the end, it was my husband that suggested the names we chose for our children, Brady and Maryn.  I love the sound of them and their symmetry.  We played around with spellings and variations of them, and I checked to make sure they were not on any of those most popular baby name lists.  Brady’s middle name was a family name on both sides and his first name was a character’s name on a TV show that John and I watched together when we were dating.  But Maryn’s name was completely unique (so much so that it has caused a great deal of confusion with pronunciation and spelling. Oops.)  It wasn’t until they were out of babyhood that we looked up the meaning of their names.  Brady means “spirited” which is so very appropriate, and Maryn means “by the sea”, which is fitting for her love of vacations and the beach trip we like to take to celebrate their spring birthdays.

The closing part of my Bible study lesson was to reflect upon the meaning of the name “Christian”.  What does it mean when we claim this name?  What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?  Unfortunately, it has become a name that carries a lot of negative meanings for many in our world these days.  When you say Christian, the image that comes to mind for many is a hypocritical, small-minded judge.  We are known not by our love, as the song says, but by the ways we have excluded others.  Baptist churches I have been a part of have had a similar struggle, particularly in this part of the state where "Baptist" brings to mind Liberty University, whose leaders have had a history of saying inflammatory and hurtful things in the name of God and religion.  Do we keep the name "Baptist" as part of our identity, knowing that it will turn many people away?  Do we try and redeem it?  Do we let it go and start something new?

I think this is the struggle that the Church is facing as well.  What it has come to be and to mean no longer connects with a large percentage of our population.  While we have continued to operate business as usual for far too many years, people are leaving the doors and not returning, seeing the Church as irrelevent.  I am serving a generation of students that were never part of the Church and see no reason to join in now.  Ecclesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία ekklēsia), translated "church", is also congregation, a group of people.  It was the name given to political gatherings in Greece.  So what makes us distinct?  So what are we doing to find our unique God-given identity?  What is our mission?

I don't have any claim to the answers, but perhaps we go back to this:

"We are one in the Spirit"
Author: Peter Scholtes

1. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love,
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

2. We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

3. We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each one’s dignity and save each one’s pride.

4. All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,
And all praise to Christ Jesus, his only Son,
And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny! I'm Heather and I have a quick question about your blog that I was hoping you could answer! My email is Lifesabanquet1(at)gmail(dot)com :-)