The start of a new school year is approaching and whether students go to the same school they did last year or a new one this coming year, they will be frequently asked, “What is your name?” It’s a foundational question that forms a beginning point for a relationship. We want to know each other, and that typically starts with the sharing of names.
Your Name and Your Story
Ancient cultures were also concerned with the question of identity. They weren’t as obsessed as we are with identity politics, but they did care about certain basic things. They often asked, just as we do, “What is your name? Who are your parents? Where are you from?” In fact, the development of our system of names whereby we have multiple names — first name, middle name, and last name — was connected with these foundational questions about family, parents, and origins.
The study of names is fascinating. Throughout cultures — and in the Christian Scriptures — names are closely related to your reputation, your honor, your origins, your parents, and, in many instances, unusual circumstances that surrounded your birth. In these ways, our names point to our past, but sometimes names can point to the future. Jesus received his name because it was prophesied of him that he would “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). In a similar way, sometimes parents choose certain names because they reflect the hopes and aspirations they have for their children.
And of course, it was common historically and still is today to associate our name with who we are and what we do. That’s why we get some nicknames, because the name tells a story. It says something about what you do, or maybe something you’ve done, or possibly something amusing that people remember you by.
Your name can be associated with honor and heroism, or your name can develop a bad reputation. The expression to “make a name for yourself” points to this very human aspiration to be known, to be recognized, to achieve recognized goals, and to “be somebody.” Your name is important because it is tied to your history, your reputation, and your future.
A New Name
And then there’s the notion of a new name. The Christian Scriptures often point to people who were given a new name to reflect the start of a new life, especially new goals and aspirations. Or maybe a new mission and a new purpose. (Genesis 17:3-5, 17:15-16, Genesis 32:22-32, Matthew 16:16-18, Mark 3:13-19)
For the last several years, I’ve been writing a series of young adult fantasy books. The entire series revolves around a boy who was abandoned, but he longs to know his family, his real name, who he is, and what he’s supposed to do. In many ways that’s what all of us want, to know our purpose and who we truly are.
You might also like Philippians: What is the Goal of the Christian Life?
Determine What Your Name Will Mean to Others
Whether or not you’re a student starting a new school year, right now is the time to make a plan. Start today – be determined to associate your name with habits of discipline, hard work, integrity, kindness, and faith. All of those things that point to us as people who have a mission and purpose in life, who have things to do that are worthy of the name we bear.
Blog edited by Joannah Buffington