My wife and I took great care in naming our children. Because not only would our children need to survive the uniquely adolescent cruelty that can be made of someone’s name, but their names are something they would be saddled with for the rest of their lives. It will be the name their grandchildren will be looking up when locating their obituary, and will be the name discovered ten generations later by someone researching their genealogy. In this regard, our names are far more permanent than tattoos.
“What is in a name?” is the famous question mused by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. The gist of the point being – would an object somehow be altered, if it were named differently? If not, then what real significance does a name actually have? But as the play unfolds, we discover that everything that is named is inextricably contingent upon its context – no object exists within the vacuum of its own self-determination. For Romeo and Juliet, it is the tragic context of their family surnames – but if they weren’t born into these two rival families, they would in fact not be the same people.
In the creation narrative God invites Adam to name the animals (Genesis 2:19, 20). Now, this may strike you as a rather innocuous detail, but I take it to be an invitation for man to join in on the work of creation. Because to name a thing, is to identify it for what it is – it is to recognize its significance within the context of creation. So not only is this man’s first act, it is this specific act that defines the very nature of what it means for mankind to co-labor with God in his vineyard. But in our exile from the garden – we’ve lost our ability to accurately name things according to their true significance.
At the point when God makes his covenant with Abram, is the point when God reveals to Abram that his true name is Abraham (Genesis 17: 1-5). Likewise, at the point when Simon correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ, is the moment when Jesus chooses to reveal to Simon, that his true name is Peter. (Matthew 16:13-20). Taken within the specific context of these events, the significance of the renaming of these men leaps out. It is as if the underlying ontological truth about these two men were breaking through our previously opaque understanding of them – that their true names were inextricably tied back to the true nature of creation.
After an all night’s wrestling with God, Jacob finds out that his true name is Israel . . . and the story of God’s chosen people begins. Just imagine what it will be like when you finally hear your true name! (Revelation 2:17) An indelible name, identifying you as the beloved of God, an immutably ontological truth about you. Now read 1 John 3:2 ~ “. . . and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”. So – what’s in a name? . . . turns out, quite a lot.
. . . but there is a name above all others.