Light Notes: Your name? There may be more to it than you imagined

Timothy J. Ledbetter, Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Wash.) on

Published in Religious News

How did you get your name? Most of us know the answer. Most are proud of their given name and of the story behind it (excepting a certain “boy named Sue”).

For reasons beyond the scope of this article, in many cultures one marriage partner may adopt the surname of the other. In other situations, one may move the family name to a middle name, or may hyphenate both last names, or some other modification. The first name of some folks may come from a surname from their heritage, and so forth.

One’s name is intentional.

The research of family names also goes back to the earliest times — trying to determine one’s breeding or inheritance (“roots”). For example, consider the genealogy of Jesus (the “begats”) described in Matthew 1. Ancestry searches, whether in written accounts, photos, microfilm or genetic/DNA studies, are growing ever more popular.

Names can give a sense of belonging.

The act of naming has been around since nearly Day One (Genesis 2:19). Naming helps to define, to distinguish, to set apart one thing from another. Naming gives to the author a measure or sense of control over the person, thing or circumstance being named. That control may be for good (honor, respect) or for ill (disparaging nicknames). Jesus demonstrated a power play of sorts by demanding the name of his foe (Mark 5:9).

“Naming rights” have influenced families, societies and cultures. Those rights may be by inheritance (House of Windsor), discovery (Alzheimer’s disease), or purchase (Rockefeller Plaza).

Naming may convey a sense of power or permanence.

Medically speaking, having the correct name or diagnosis of an afflicting disease allows a plan of action to be developed and implemented (“Tell me what I have, Doc, so I know how to fight it!”). Having no diagnostic name or the wrong one prohibits or misdirects an action plan. In general, unnamed opposition denies the opportunity for engagement.

The name is important.


Throughout history, the importance of names and naming is highly appreciated. Rarely is a name selected at random — perhaps in humor, but not at random. Parents may invest much research, reflection and deliberation in choosing the particular name or names of their progeny (“They named them ______, because _______”).

Often a certain point is being made in the selection of a name. More than one biblical person changed their name to reflect new life circumstances.

Indeed, your name matters.

What is the history of your name? Perhaps it has deep meaning for you; perhaps not.

There is a meaningful biblical story about a young man, Samuel, who was apprenticed to a priest, Eli, in the Jewish temple (I Samuel 3). One night Samuel was awakened several times upon hearing his name called aloud, but could not figure out who it was.

Among the many lessons in this story, the one I like is what Eli said to Samuel, and to each of us: “When you lie down and cannot sleep, sit up and listen. Hush! Someone is calling your name.”

I believe that Someone is God.

©2021 Tri-City Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.