What’s in a Name?
“Hi! My name is — What? My name is — Who?
My name is (Chika-Chika)… Slim Shady” - lyrics from My Name Is by Eminem¹
Having a freshman in high school has brought back some vivid memories over this last year. One of them is in my high school English Honors class with Mr. Reno. I can recall his teaching moments and the words and stanzas he instilled, with great passion, throughout that pivotal year. One of those lessons centers on the work of Shakespeare precisely within Romeo and Juliet, which, in my opinion, is arguably one of the best-known love stories in Western literature. Jump with me to one of the most romantic scenes in the play: the balcony scene. Juliet is on the balcony telling Rome that a name is nothing but a title and proceeds to pontificate that dwelling on a name is like having a conversation with no meaning. After all, even a rose would still have that desirable fragrance if it weren’t called a rose. (As a side note, try to read these following few words without recalling the feeling of sweaty palms, which notably came from acting them out from memory in front of your peers.)
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man.
O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself. (2.2.38–49)²
As Juliet says the above words, she struggles with the conflict between her feelings for Romeo and her knowledge that he is (by name alone) an enemy of her family. Emphasizing that the meaning found within the names that we are called can be foundational in our lives.
Have you ever had a name (or word) spoken over you that left you dumbfounded and even struggling to free yourself from the grip of its descriptive nature? Possibly a quaint nickname that started as a funny memory that, over time, placed you in bondage to the memory of something you wanted to forget. Maybe a family name you were born into forced you to carry an expectation that sometimes feels too heavy to navigate. These examples could seem extreme to many, but the truth is that many spend their entire lives just trying to answer a straightforward question: “Who am I?” The answers vary as we look to our accolades and our strengths and weaknesses to define us. We look to other friends, families, and mentors to determine who we are. We allow others to articulate who we’re supposed to be. We look everywhere and often come up nameless, bearing scars of the past.
“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name?” — Confucious.
What if we could erase all of the names we’ve been called and go back to the beginning, to the origin of our proper names. Stay with me. “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” — John 1:1 (New Living Translation). In this passage, we find the Greek word Logos. When we read John 1:1, we say: “In the beginning was Logos.” Telling us that there was God, who lived, created, and breathed the very essence wherein everything is founded at the beginning of everything — including our identity. For believers in Christ, we know that our heavenly Father is the God of life, the ultimate divine author of the human experience who can resurrect what is dead. The Bible teaches us that he changes names and humanity’s descriptions.
Here is merely the tip of the iceberg of examples:
“Yet some people accepted him and put their faith in him. So he gave them the right to be the children of God.” — John 1:12 (Contemporary English Version)
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant, does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” — John 15:15 (English Standard Version)
“Being justified [declared free of the guilt of sin, made acceptable to God, and granted eternal life] as a gift by His [precious, undeserved] grace, through the redemption [the payment for our sin] which is [provided] in Christ Jesus.” — Romans 3:24 (The Amplified Bible)
“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, to bring glory to God.” — Romans 15:7 (Berean Study Bible)
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away — look, what is new has come.” — 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ — by grace, you are saved.” — Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV)
“And he who has an ear, let him hear what The Spirit speaks to the assemblies: ‘To the one who is victorious I shall give of the manna which is hidden, and I shall give him a white pebble, and upon the pebble, a name in writing that no man knows except he who receives.” — Revelation 2:17 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
“No more will anyone call you Rejected, and your country will no more be called Ruined. You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight), and your land Beulah (Married), Because God delights in you and your land will be like a wedding celebration.” — Isaiah 62:4 (Christian Standard Version)
God’s definition of you is the most accurate. And knowing this gives you so much power against everything God has called you out of or from. As we let our Creator define the identity of his creation, we find a formational list of descriptions of who God says we are. Regardless of anything you’ve done well or poorly, you are the redeemed child of the Most-High God, irrespective of your successes or failures. “I have called you by name. You are mine.” — Isaiah 43:1 (NIV). No more alter-egos or masquerades.
Be real. God has already called you by that real name, and as we seek him, we will hear him call our original name.
PS — I am sorry, Mr. Reno, for ending one of the last sentences (i.e., the second sentence of the next to last paragraph) with a preposition; it read best without changing it.