People often grow into the meaning of their names, which gives hope to all who bear the name of Christ
Choosing what to call a child is a joyful privilege, even if it can have a couple locked in dispute over the A-Z of baby names. The last twenty five years have seen a fifty percent spike in new names, suggesting a dramatic change in the way we view this task. Not all are impressed: the choice of Klay by Wayne and Coleen Rooney for their second child provoked some derision, not least because he sounds like a wanton Klingon warlord.
Commentators are quick to discern class-based trends: solid middle class families are believed to opt for tried, traditional names; working class families for quirky if not unique ones or traditional names spelt in unconventional ways. The suggestion of a class divide is a predictably British one and the idea that a child’s future prospects are determined by their name speaks sadly of how little we believe in social mobility today.
The explosion of new names is expressive of an age of rootless individualism, where people like to start with a blank slate and where a name can distinguish you from everyone else, establishing a unique identity. This may be contrasted with the adoption of traditional names which are rooted in history and cherish a connection with others and with the past.
In Hebrew, name is synonymous with character; a person’s name would describe their moral commitments. The name of the Lord is frequently invoked in scripture and it has specific meaning: when we pray in Jesus’ name we inhabit his character and all he embodies. One curious dimension of life is how often people grow into the meaning of their names and it is a fascinating use of spare time to detect this in the characters of people we know.
When Jesus re-named Simon as Peter, he identified the rock on which the Church would be built. Peter had a lot of personal development ahead of him when Jesus said this: his denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest seems a pitiful failure and in our modern culture of unsparing judgment would probably have disqualified him from such leadership. Jesus, by contrast, saw the potential in Peter and his restoration on the shore of Lake Galilee some time after the resurrection helped to shape Peter into the name he had inherited, showing the role that others play in our character formation.
It is unlikely Peter felt worthy of his name at this point but Jesus saw something different. How we perceive ourselves in life is often at odds with how others see us. Many Christians, painfully aware of their deficiencies, fail to understand how they influence others for good. This looks reasonably enough like humility, yet the failure to see our capacity for shaping others in Christ is a lost opportunity. It may be embarrassing to know how short of our reputation we fall in reality, but this does not amount to fraud, for people see dimensions to our character we find it hard to identify. Jesus’ naming of Peter may have raised eyebrows at the time, for Peter was impatient, mercurial and prone to rashness, qualities which are almost the antithesis of how we view leadership in our churches today. Yet he saw the way in which Peter would grow into his name.
Readers of this piece will have a broad range of names, yet even those who lack a historic one may have something to grow into, for we all bear the name of Christ and are in a Spirit-filled struggle to inhabit his character, the name which is above all other names.
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