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December 24 – What’s In A Name?

My wife and I discussed baby names long before she was even pregnant. We knew the names we wanted to use and we knew why a year or two before we even tried to have kids. That was our tradition. Talking with a friend in Rwanda, he noted that in his culture, they had a baby naming party. As the baby was presented, friends and relatives would suggest names based on the character of the baby. The eventual name for the baby would incorporate the input of those who made suggestions. It’s interesting to see how different cultures name their children. In some countries, names have to be on approved lists so that a child isn’t stuck with a name that could be embarrassing, or perhaps harmful to the child. In Germany, for instance, names that might relate to the Nazis are forbidden and must be approved by a board, who charges a fee for each name submitted for approval.

In the Jewish tradition, a name denotes the character and path in life expected of the child. In some parts of Jewish culture, children were named after a relative that had passed away, but sometimes a child could be named after a living relative. The purpose of doing that is to keep the name and memory of the deceased alive. Names had important meanings and would reflect not only the history of the child and the family, but also look to the future with hope. We get a brief glimpse into the process of a naming party at the birth of John, later known as John the Baptist. Friends and relatives were dead set on the name Zechariah for the name, either to honor his father who had such a profound spiritual experience or to replace the man who had lost his voice. When Elizabeth pronounced that his name would be John, they protested and looked to Zechariah for help. “Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, ‘His name is John.’ Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God.” (Luke 1:62-64 NIV)

Something struck me as I read that passage. Zechariah had lost his ability to speak, but there is never any mention of him losing his hearing. The response of the people, instead of talking to Zechariah was to make gestures. I imagine they expected Zechariah to agree with them. After all, isn’t t an honor for a father to have a son named after himself? John didn’t fit into any of their preconceived notions of a name. I’m sure he must have been frustrated with his attempts to tell the gathered friends and family that his name was John, and so, he got a writing tablet and put it in black and white, so to speak, that the baby’s name is John. No more argument. No more attempts to help or change that name. It’s John. Zechariah, who had lost his voice when he questioned God’s decree through the angel, immediately started talking and praising God. His obedience brought restoration.

I’m named after my dad, and often I wonder if my actions would bring honor or disgrace to him and the name I bear. While my dad wasn’t perfect, whose dad is, he was a good father who deserved to be honored, especially by the son who bore his name. Even moreso, now, I have an additional name. As a Christian, I bear the name of Christ. As a vocal Christian I know that I have people watching me to catch my every misstep – and they call me out on those missteps when they think I’m wrong. That doesn’t bother me, though, because when I bear the name of Christ, I am representing the nature and character of Jesus to a world that needs to know His mercy and grace. And so, I bear that name with some fear and trepidation, but mostly with astonishment that God, in His amazing grace, saw fit to love me.


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