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Names are important, and the Bible is full of them. I never went to Sunday school as a kid, so I’m just now (“better late than never”, right, Nanny?) memorizing the names of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples of Jesus. The problem is, the names change spelling, depending on the source; even more confusing, one person can have multiple names, or the same name can be applied to multiple people. (And don’t get me started on ALL THE MARY’S!)
People also underwent name changes when they underwent spiritual transformation. Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Saul became Paul, Hebrews became Christians. Getting sold into slavery also got you a new name. When Joseph lived among the Egyptians he was called Zaphnathpaaneah, and Daniel among the Babylonians was Belteshazzar.
Names are important. Sometimes they’re so important that angels show up months before a birth to tell you exactly what to call your kid. That happened to John the Baptist’s father and to Jesus’ mother. So much for the element of surprise, but at least it saved the parents the hassle of knitting yellow booties; they just went straight for the blue wool!
When Jesus exorcised demons, he always demanded to know their name, and they had to tell him. They had no choice. Jesus would then speak their name when commanding them to leave (they also had no choice about leaving). Their name became part of the exorcism, because names are important.
On Earth, there are many other people, both alive and dead, who have the same name as us. In Heaven (if we make it there), we will all have unique names given to us by God. Just as our DNA is unique, as reflected in the one-of-a-kindness of our fingerprints, ears, irises, and every other natural part of us (including our gait and our scent), there will only be one of us in Heaven with that God-given name for all eternity. However, we will not know our name before we arrive in Heaven, so forget about bugging God to know it. I can share from personal experience that he won’t tell you.
God has nearly an infinite number of names. He reveals some of them in scripture (Heavenly Father, Almighty God, Jehovah, Jah, Jahweh, I Am) which we use publicly, while others he shares with his children privately. In fact, he invites his children to name him in the same way we give pet names to those we love. In this, the power is not so much in the names we choose, but in the force of our love as we speak those names. Jesus called God “Abba”, which is Aramaic for “Father” or better said “Daddy”. It denotes a deeply personal relationship with God not as a “being” who is “out there somewhere” and to be visited only on occasion through formalized rituals, but as someone who is ever-present, intimately known, profoundly loved, and needed on a visceral level. This is how I know God, and I have many names for him that only we know.
The Christian naming ceremony (called “christening”) used to be a big thing in the Western world. It was combined with infant baptism and occurred around the third week after birth. My parents are Roman Catholic, so when I was three weeks old, they dutifully carried me, godparents and other witnesses in tow, to the church basement to be baptised. However, little did they know that the name they’d chosen for me was not considered “Christian” by the church officials, and so away I was sent, still unbaptised and officially unnamed. Over the next few weeks, my godmother came up with a name that could use my originally chosen moniker as a nick-name. The second trip to the church basement was not done with as much fanfare (no cake that time), but at least I had some water splashed on me and was entered into the church roll of names, where I imagine I still exist, despite my best and ongoing efforts to be excommunicated.
Many people share the same name. I’ve had the opportunity to meet my name-twin virtually when I started getting emails that were meant for her. I still get some of her emails on occasion and find it amusing when I forward them to her. Our own name is such an intimate identifier of us that to see it applied to someone else can be jarring. Within our own families, we hand down names along with wealth, property, and treasured belongings, but to share the same name with strangers just feels, well, strange.
Names are important, and the world, like the Bible, is full of them. Even so, God tells us that only one name really matters – the name that we pray in, the name that we come before God in, the name of the Messiah, and the name that is above all names: the name of JESUS.