“what’s in a name?”

I have a silly confession to make: I frequently name inanimate objects.

It’s true. Every car I’ve owned had a name, my aloe vera plant is named Francine… It just makes me feel more connected to something when it has a name. The other day I was thinking about this while driving, and I thought, “How human of me is it to need to dominate something by naming it? Is that what I’m doing? Why does it make me feel more connected with something if it has a name?”

You’re probably about to exit because this sounds like the ravings of a madwoman, but I do think there’s a biblical lesson here. (So, stay with me.)

It takes only five verses into Genesis for God to name something — “God called the light Day, and the darkness Night…” (Genesis 1:5). He named Heaven, the Seas, the Earth, the two Great Lights, and man and woman. And do you know the job he gave to Adam?

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field.

Genesis 2:19-20

I guess we can thank ‘ol Adam for the pangolin, the tasseled wobbegong, and aye-aye. (Those are real, I promise.) We can also thank Adam for a couple other lessons on granting of names…

Names did communicate dominion and ownership, but do they now?
It would’ve been so easy for God to name everything himself, but he didn’t. In fact, he says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Dominion over equaled the naming of. This even applied later to the Israelites when they would conquer a neighboring kingdom in God’s name. The renaming of the city determined who had dominion over it. But what about now?

The tradition continues. When we landed on the moon or went to Antarctica, a continent owned by no one individual country, we stabbed flag poles in the ground to mark our achievement. While we may not have named the land for our own, I can promise you that the moon’s Sea of Tranquility didn’t name itself.

According to London’s Natural History Museum, scientists discovered and named 503 new species in 2020. A quote from the link sums it up perfectly: “In a year when the global mass of biodiversity is being outweighed by human-made mass it feels like a race to document what we are losing. 503 newly discovered species reminds us we represent a single, inquisitive, and immensely powerful species with the fate of many others in our hands.”

The Naming of humans and the uses of their names have deep roots and significant purposes.
I find biblical names and God’s involvement in them to be absolutely fascinating. For example, Abram’s name meant “high father,” but in Genesis 17 his name became Abraham, which means “father of a great multitude.” The promise and covenant of God changed the meaning of his name.

Even in the New Testament when Jesus meets Simon (which means “that hears, that obeys”), we see a new name bestowed on him — Cephas, translating to Peter. Cephas, as you know, means “rock or stone” and Jesus used Peter to be the Rock on which Christ built his new church (see Matthew 16:18). The new promise of God required a name change that echoed the heart change. Do you see?

Now today, we don’t normally see momentous name changes like in the Bible. But I love this Jewish quote from a rabbinical text: “In life, you discover that people are called by three names: One is the name the person is called by his father and mother; one is the name people call him; and one is the name he acquires for himself. The best one is the one he acquires for himself.”

Jesus knows your name and my name, too.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible comes from John 20, where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after his Resurrection. It’s just too good to paraphrase, so here you go…

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

John 20:11-16

The amount of emotion, peace, and clarity in that one word — Mary! (I hope you’re getting chills, too.)

First, it is much to big for my finite mind to reason with that I should look into the face of God.
Second, to even be able to measure the awe that a divine power knows me and my name is impossible.
And lastly, after watching the fate that Jesus went through — his torture and death, knowing in my mind he was going to fulfill a prophetical promise but not quite fully believing in my heart — to see his tomb wiped clean and turn and see a Man do exactly what he said he would do?? Matchless and dumbfounding.

All in all, I don’t think that naming my Camelbak water bottle or my aloe vera plant is me trying to establish authority and control. But I do think that names have incredible power and hidden qualities.

I am so grateful to know that I serve a God that knows me. While I know it was my mom that named me at birth, God knew everything about me and everything I would do from that moment forward. There is no doubt it my mind that God had influence in my name, because he’s been redemptively naming his children as they come to know him all throughout history. I can only hope to live up to it.

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