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What's in a Name?


“The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate.”

Isaiah 62:2 


What’s in a name? Brings me back to my elementary days and the homework assignment to research your own name. My deskmate already knew hers and leaned over to enlighten me that the German variant meant beautiful and, in Icelandic, meant princess. After that, boy oh boy, I couldn’t wait to learn mine. It had to be just as good, if not more wonderful!


Well, noble was too lame a word for a 2nd grader when it was pitted against the beautiful princess sitting to my right. And my middle name? Meadow. I couldn’t believe it. A grassy field? As if I needed an identity crisis at age 8. My face was rightfully red in utter embarrassment when I had to present my findings to the entire class the next day.


After that, I kind of gave up on the whole “what’s in a name” thing. That is, until recently, when I had a son to name. I belabored on google searches, skimmed every baby name book I could get my hands on, and talked with trusted family members about their opinions and ideas. I didn’t want to decide on Rudolph, Bing, or Troy just because it settled well, like I would with a dinner menu and a slab of meatloaf. I wanted meaning. I wanted SIGNIFICANCE. I knew I turned out fine with the equivalent of meadow as my name, but what if there was something more for our baby?


Oscar was not only Ty’s great-grandpa’s name, and Mabel her great-grandma’s–so they met the old-soul and sentimental criteria–but further digging revealed awesome meanings that would surely be the talk and envy of their 2nd grade classes. Oscar means God’s spear or champion warrior. Now, that’s what I call powerful! That’s manly! That even made my quiet father-in-law pump his fist with a, “YEAH!” And Mabel means beautiful, loved, loving. I knew she’d be beautiful, but what more could I hope for my daughter that out of her loveliness, she has a heart always bent on loving people and that she herself would be a delight to others.


Who knows if that means Oscar will reign playground champion or if Mabel will never have an enemy in her life. But what I do know is that I want my boy to be a warrior for Christ, and I want my daughter to love wholly and selflessly like Jesus.


When the world attacks and illness, deception, or temptation assail, I want my son to come out on top because he has faith in the Almighty God. I want nothing more than for him to realize he’s a champ, because in all things, we are more than conquerors and overwhelming victory is ours through Christ (Romans 8:37). And when hatred seems to be winning and people misinterpret Christianity to be nothing but critical eyes and raised eyebrows, I want my daughter to exude the unconditional love of the Spirit of God. Because Jesus saw this unreserved love the only way to live, and reminded His people that we should be known by this love for one another (John 13:35).


So what better way to speak this truth over my kids every time I call them down to the dinner table? Or every day when someone calls out their name in class, on the bus, or on the basketball court?


Mary didn’t have the heavy responsibility of naming the Christ child; thankfully, an angel took care of that holy guesswork. She even knew what to anticipate: “For to us, a child is born…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). She didn’t know if Jesus would have thick, curly hair or how His brutal death would bring that ultimate peace, but as someone who loved God, Mary knew He delivered on His promises. Jesus would surely become this mighty Counselor, this wonderful Prince of Peace, because God’s true to what He names.


The truth is, no matter if our names mean beautiful or meadow or champion warrior, through Christ, God gives His people a long list of already wonderful, meaningful names to claim: God’s temple, chosen, the bride of the Lamb, followers of the Way, children of the Light, soldiers, instruments for noble purposes, salt of the earth, saved, and ambassadors of Christ. And God’s true to what He names. When we trust in Jesus, we are given these identities filled with hope and meaning, significance and purpose. Just as Mary knew what to expect in her soon-to-be-born son Jesus, God has given us these names to anticipate, grow into, and become in ourselves and expect to see in our lives. We can avoid the identity crisis, and take joy and celebration in the baby Jesus that lived up to his identity and gave us a new one to live up to ourselves.


In the same way I pray over my kids, this is my prayer for you today: In the years, the battles, the victories ahead, I pray you realize the full potential your name brings, and realize that in Christ, you can do all things. What a better world it would be if we all realized the potential of our names… so lead the way, God’s chosen ones.

To my child...
This Labor Day weekend...


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    Sally Cranham is a singer and writer from the UK. She uses biblical narrative and her own experience to write deeply into the heart of the human condition. She currently works as a volunteer for SourceMN as their Arts Outreach Coordinator and has lived as a Residential Volunteer at Source’s anti-trafficking transitional annex alongside women who have come out of the life of prostitution.
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