My name is one given by my parents and as I recall, it is one my mother saw in something she was reading and liked a great deal. I don’t know if she knew anything about its meaning or source when it was chosen for me, but I do know my paternal grandmother did not approve of the choice. She refused to call me anything but “baby” until she died a few months after my birth.
My name seemed to be unique at the time I was growing up and going through school. No other girl in my classes had my first name and I confess that I sometimes wished I had one of the popular names at that time.
Later on, when I was curious, I looked up the meaning and found this:
“The name Pamela means All Honey, Sweetness, and is of English origin. The name was invented by Sir Philip Sidney for a poem entitled “Arcadia” in the 1580’s.”
I rarely use the name, Pamela, as it seems so formal to me. I can easily see myself sitting in a garden at a formal tea party somewhere when I hear or read it. As a result, most people call me Pam instead unless there is a very formal reason why my given name is appropriate. (I used it when I repeated my wedding vows.)
I am not sure we always think a lot about a name, any name, as much as once was the case. Most of us think of it most often when a new baby is born and named or perhaps how we feel about the name we were given at birth.
But I believe names are important. We see how often they were noted as significant and rich with meaning when we read Scripture.
Sometimes names appear to be intentionally chosen for their meaning (either etymology or whom we have known by that name) and other times it seems parents choose a name randomly. We all know that certain names are popular at different times and then fade from use after a few years. Other names stand the test of time and we discover those are some of the names we see in Scripture and used throughout the generations since then.
Naming is important and becomes something we learn to do at the outset as our parents tell us the names of people, places, and things. The significance of our first breaths on earth are marked by being named. That should remind us of more than what the name means or how we feel about it, however.
Look at how Eugene Peterson widens our lens on the importance of names:
“At our birth, we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.”
Maybe some knowing within us about that is why we tend to cringe at labels and sometimes nicknames. Labels are less personal, more abstract, and lump us with others who may be quite unlike us in more ways than not. Labels also confine us, box us in, and set us up for stereotypes and biases that go along with those labels. And that creates dissension and division, implying the label is all of who we are and anything that we are that doesn’t fit must be eliminated.
Such thinking loses so much of the meaning that a name, my name or yours, says. You are a certain person and not anyone else even though you may have characteristics that are similar to others in your family or any other number of categories.
I fit into many categories that I can list – wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend, teacher, homemaker, counselor, writer, author, and more. Those labels tell you information, but they don’t really tell you who I am. None of them say the uniqueness of who I am in each of these categories or labels.
“Names not only address what we are, the irreplaceably human, they also anticipate what we become. Names call us to become who we will be. A lifetime of growth and development is announced by a name. Names mean something. A personal name designates what is irreducibly personal; it calls us to become what we are not yet.”
Scripture speaks in many places about who we are to be and how the Lord refers to us. One example that fits with what I have written above are these words of John in The Message:
“But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him – and in seeing him, become like him.” 1 John 3:2
We are named and that starts the process of becoming that continues as we discover over time, a lifetime, who we are and what we are called to be in the Lord’s design and purpose. We are ever changing and not yet complete (except in Christ).
The Lord calls us his children, but we are not just a child or a combination of genetic material from our parents. Each of us will become who we are “with who God is and what he does” (Eugene Peterson).
“In another hour, another day, we will have changed. We are in the process of either becoming more or less.” Eugene Peterson
I am fascinated by the passage in Revelation 2:17 (MSG) in the words to the Church in Pergamum which reads:
“Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. I’ll give the sacred manna to every conqueror; I’ll also give a clear, smooth stone inscribed with your new name, your secret new name.”
Can you imagine what it will be like to hear the Lord call you by your secret new name?
How do we discover the meaning of a name, of who we are?
It can only happen to the fullest extent our Creator has in mind in relationship with Him.