Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? Truly, what is in a name? Shakespeare’s well known pair of ‘star-crossed lovers,’ Juliet proclaims to Romeo, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This statement makes sense. Yet, this flower would then not be a rose because the identity of the rose has been stripped away with the taking of its name. Now, it is only a sweet smelling flower. There are many sweet smelling flowers in the world and none have the same consequence of the flower entitled rose. The rose is unique in the fact that it is the favorite flower used by lovers. To receive a dozen roses is a big deal. Yet, if one were only to receive a dozen flowers that would not be quite as exciting. Roses mean money and a serious love interest. Therefore, Juliet might want to relook into her hastily made statement that a name’s significance amounts to nothing.

In the continent of South America, there was a very poor community of Latins that were known for an extremely low self esteem. By their culture, they were considered trash. They believed this as well. One man, Paulo Freire, decided to study this community. He discovered that although the community had their own language, they had no names for any object that was brought to them by another culture. For example, a necklace brought to them by the Portuguese was forever the word ‘necklace’ in Portuguese. When asked what the object was in their own language, they would answer with the name of the object in Portuguese. To name something is to proclaim a type of ownership over the object. The community could not see themselves worthy to create names for objects of other cultures. Once there is a name for the object, there is suddenly a subtle ownership.

As a baby sitter and a student teacher, I have had the opportunity to observe and monitor children often. In each of these different situations, I have been called upon by nature itself to keep children in line and out of trouble. Without err, it has come to my notice that the best way to stop a child’s bad behavior is to get that child’s attention with the calling of his or her name. Children have the ability to tune out all other voices except those that he or she desires to hear. Yet, when the child’s name is called, his or her reaction is immediate. Adults everywhere have surely noticed that if you just command, “Sit still and keep your hands to yourself,” absolutely nothing occurs. The child continues to poke his or her neighbor and squirm in his or her seat. Yet, if that same adult calls out the same statement with the addition of the child’s name, the child is one hundred percent more likely to listen to the adult. To know a person’s name is to have some sort of relationship and authority in that person’s life. One’s name is intimately connected to the person that carries that name.

Since the Biblical times, names have held a particular significance. The names chosen for children were often a parent’s wish for a child’s life. A name also could be a prophecy of a person’s life. Not only were names believed to carry the fate of the bearer, names were so important that if one were to severe a person from their name it was as if one had killed them. Throughout the Bible, it has become apparent that names could sometimes be used as a quick one-word biography of a person’s life. For example, Solomon means ‘peace.’ He was the first king of Israel to have no wars within his reign. In the book of Ruth, Naomi had two sons named Mahlon and Chilion. Mahlon means “puny” and Chilion means “pining.” Both men died early in life. Clearly, a person’s name holds some weight. From these couple of examples, it is obvious that the meanings of names can influence the lives of their name bearers. Names are critically important.

Throughout the years, the importance of names has greatly diminished. Often children are named something simply because their parents greatly like the name. Yet, names have carried such significance for so long that even though people fail to acknowledge the importance in a person’s name, this does not make the name’s significance any less. Regardless of the name given by a parent, God also promises a new name and says in the book of Isaiah 62:2-4, “The Nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (translation: My delight is in her), and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married.” Names can easily become mundane things that are overused daily; yet, names carry a significance that people fail to acknowledge.