Posted by: karanoel | April 12, 2021

What’s in a name?

We recently hosted a bridal shower for my cousin’s twenty-something daughter, Aubrey, of whom I’m very fond. I’m also a fan of her fiance, Rob, whom I first met a couple years ago when they started dating. It was a beautiful day to have a shower and I enjoyed seeing some of my extended family and meeting his. 

There was a surprise that day, though. Everyone, Aubrey included, was calling this guy I’ve only ever heard called Rob…  “Robert. Apparently that is what he goes by to the people closest to him. Which is good and fine and not remotely unusual to go by different versions of a name (I go by Kari to family or people introduced by them, and Kara to everyone else). But I suddenly wondered if I should start calling him Robert. Since I don’t fall into the “people closest to him” category and he seems fine being called Rob, I don’t think there’s a need. Which is very good news since I don’t think I’m capable of making the switch. 

I have pretty good reason to believe this. My sister’s best friend from childhood, who is still one of my family’s favorite people, has been going by Rebecca for a couple decades now. But long before that, I knew her as Becky. Despite some valiant attempts to adapt to her grownup name, she has remained Becky to me…. or in my finer moments, Beck, which is as far a departure as I can utter. Fortunately, she seems to love me anyway and has graciously allowed me and my family the accommodation of using her youthful nickname.

Another friend has legally changed her first name because she did not feel her given name reflected who she is. This falls into a different category for me. It’s no less difficult to change my habits, especially since I’ve also known her for ages, but it needs to be done… because it is not just the shedding of a sweet childhood nickname but a declaration of what she sees as her true identity; one that demands she leave behind the old. I want to honor her in that. 

Names matter that way. They speak of who we are, digging grooves of mind and mouth as they are said over and over. Some carry family history, repeating through the generations like a badge of honor and belonging. Many hold within them the love of parents who spent months carefully deliberating the name to bestow upon their precious newborn child. Some, like nicknames, were informally forged; arising from love and friendship, held tight by stories that will be told for a lifetime.

And then there are names that were not given from a place of love and belonging. Some have been given by others to disparage and disgrace, hardening like concrete around vulnerable identities. Loser. Reject. Different. Damaged. Some celebrate a particular trait, appearing positive on the surface but creating a need to satisfy the name and a fear of ever falling short. Pretty. Funny. Smart. Admired. Some, though based on temporary circumstances, can create a permanent identity. Anxious. Depressed. Sick. Afraid. And there are grace-devoid ones we give ourselves, deeming a skewed sense of self as true. I can think of several of my own: Inadequate. Unworthy. Stupid. Selfish. Addict.

God had a habit of changing people’s names in the Bible and, through Jesus, He has done the same for us. Loved. Accepted. Worthy. Free. Redeemed. It’s a legal name change, effective immediately, whether or not we feel deserving (just a heads up, we’re not) and even when we can’t see an iota of truth reflected in our current state (Abraham was old and childless when God called him the “father of a multitude”). This is a powerful shift, releasing us from the striving and shame attached to our former names and the faulty identities they served to secure, while establishing the life-changing truth of who we truly are.

In order for this change to transform us, though, we need to come into agreement with it. In other words, we need to acknowledge – and use – our new names. As I’ve already proven with Becky, this is no easy task. The transition will likely feel forced and awkward as we form the new names in our mind and mouth, fraught with temptations to run back to the old and familiar. Our lives will continue to demonstrate qualities opposite of the new, causing us to doubt the truth of it and making us want to shout the old. But with understanding of how final and significant this change is and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit, I know it is possible.

So when my choices look out of control and I want to call myself Addict, I will instead call myself FREE and declare that whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36). When my insecurities are assaulting me and I feel Unworthy and Unlovable, I will call myself WORTHY and LOVED and will thank God who made me worthy for a part of inheritance with the Saints (Colossians 1:12) and proved His love for me by dying for me when I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8). When I feel Dumb or Confused, I will call myself SOUND MINDED, reminding my soul that I have the mind of Christ (1Corinthians 2:16). I have already seen and experienced this holy transformation in part, but am greatly anticipating how much more is to come. Because I am convinced that the more we disregard the old by speaking out the new, the more we will see – and become – who God already knows we are. 

An impromptu visit yesterday from Becky… I mean, Rebecca

****

What names have you gone by? What are your new, God-given names? What would your life look like if you allowed them to replace the old?

Life and death are in the power of the tongue. Proverbs 18:21a


Responses

  1. WOW!!! You really nailed this one. Such good writing and use of Scriptural truth. My close friend Johnny became known in his church and among friends as John. His wife told me his name was now John. I told him that I couldn’t call him John. He understood and liked the fact that were were still buddies. No one calls him Johnny but me. I feel special and so does he.

    This may be your best blog ever. Thank you. How is Dad? Do you think he can do the book? Could you write it for him? I am assuming he can still communicate well. Maybe that is why he moved to your place (among other reasons).

    Paul

    >

    • Thank you, Paul! What a great story about Johnny and the special bond the nickname represents. Dad has been busy preparing a video presentation for European Vineyard pastors conference. Its been hard since he’s out of the rhythm, but good to have focus and purpose. He has been writing notes for the book and talking with people to get timelines right, so hopefully that will get going in earnest after this conference!! He really is a good writer and communicator so I think he can do it. All the best to you guys!

  2. Thank you Kari. So needed this. Love you beyond measure

    • This makes my heart so glad! Love you so very much, Sue ❤️


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