|Image by Sandi Somers|
While teaching ESL, I learned a lot about names from different countries. I discovered that the name Bol Angelo Yei was from the Nuer tribe of South Sudan. The name Michael or Solomon or Thomas usually comes from the Indian state of Kerala, where the Apostle Thomas took the gospel. Any name that includes “Jeet” or “Singh” comes from the Punjab state in India.
Sometimes I met families who gave their children special names. A Kurdish mother called her son, "No Home", and the other, "Poor", (in Kurdish), profound names to signify that the Kurds have no homeland--they're spread across Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Armenia. Following World War I, European powers carved new nations in the Middle East without regard to such people as the Kurds.
I also saw how my ESL students felt when their names weren't valued. In Elizebeth’s immigration process, someone documented her as “Elizabeth”. “But that’s not the way I spell my name,” she said. Vuoy, a Vietnamese girl of the boat people era, objected to her teacher calling her “Nugyen,” not realizing that Nguyen was her last name and that the Vietnamese write their family names first.
When I value the name of a person, I think of the words of the writer Margaret Shull:
There is something about knowing and calling a person by name that gives dignity and worth to that individual. To look someone in the eye and say his or her name communicates knowledge, often times warmth, and a sense of value. I care enough to know your name. To listen, talk together, share.
All of the above gave me a context for Biblical names. Isaiah gave his son the name, “Shea-jashub”, which means “A remnant will return”. This signified that God had promised to return His people from captivity. “Jesus” meant “Saviour”, or “He who shall save his people.”
Then I sometimes wondered why Scripture says: “The Name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and rare safe” (Proverbs 18:10), and why we sing, "Blessed be the Name of the Lord". Why Name? On thinking this through, I recognized that in Biblical times, names equalled the person and identified their essence. This is something we don’t usually think of when we name our children.
Today our parents may have given us a name because they liked it, because it was a popular name at the time, or because it was the name of an ancestor.
My parents gave me the name Sandra because they liked it. However, God had a hand in it, as He divinely chose it for me to fulfill a part of God’s story of redemption for the world. "I have called you by name, you are mine," He said in Isaiah 43:1. Sandra means helper. In my twenties God gave me a verse which signified the special type of helper God meant me to be.
The Sovereign LORD has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will (Isaiah 50:4)
Ever since that time, I have wanted to live up to that honour.
But there is another significance to our names. I read in Revelation that God will have a special bestowment for us:
To the one who is victorious, I will give… that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it (Revelation 2:17).
The idea of my future new name resonated deeply and brought tears. Will it be a sign of how my life has contributed to God’s kingdom? For how I brought glory to Him? For how I have carried out His mission for me? For sure I want to finish well and hear God’s words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and hear Him say, “Your name on earth was Sandra/Sandi, and now I give you the new name, ____.” What an honour that will be!
Now over to you.
What does your name mean?
How and why did your parents choose your name (if you know)?
What implication does your name have for you in your growth of faith and writing?
Or perhaps you can write about how you chose your children’s names.
What implications did their names have for your hopes and God’s purposes for their lives?
Joylene Bailey wrote on how her parents chose her name and what it means to her life and writing.
Ruth Snyder also reflected on the meaning of her name.