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More by Elliott Ryan

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What's in a Name?

By Elliott Ryan
Guest Writer – When I was 12 years old, a family meeting was called in our kitchen. Our family not being one to hold official meetings often, I was sure that something major was about to be announced. And I was right. I had been the youngest member of the family for 12 years. But at that family meeting I learned that was all about to change.

My parents were having another child. For the next few months, we prepared for the arrival of a healthy baby sister. One of the most exciting parts of the preparation was choosing a name for my new sibling. Of course, my parents were the real decision makers. But they did allow the rest of the family to have some input. I remember looking through a baby name book with my parents as we searched for the perfect name for someone we had never met. Looking back, it is a good thing my parents did not give all the power to me in the naming process. If they had, I would have a sister named Dementia today.

(To any Dementias who may be reading, it is a lovely name, really. That is why I suggested it to my family. But in hindsight, it just would not have been a good fit for my sister.)

My parents eventually arrived at a name that the whole family really liked. My sister was born soon thereafter. Everyone really liked her too.

The whole baby-naming process in our culture is fascinating. Some parents pick names that just sound good to them. Others name their children after themselves or other realtives. I've met people named after cartoon characters, movie stars, and random inanimate objects. And I have of course met parents who pore over the meanings of names looking for a name with important spiritual significance.

In many cultures, the naming process is even more fascinating. For instance, in some Native American tribes, babies are given names that are only temporary. Years later, they are given a new name that matches their character or abilities in some way.

Or take ancient Israel for example. All throughout the Old Testament, we see parents naming their children names that had particular religious significance. Israelites didn't go around giving arbitrary names to their children. Names were very important to them. According to the Talmud, a book of Jewish religious teachings, Israelites believed that an angel comes down from Heaven and whispers the name of the newborn child in the parents' ears.

It is easy to understand why it is so important to many parents to pick the perfect name out for their child. It is one thing that typically follows a child around for the rest of his life. It is how everyone will identify the child. That is also why the Bible emphasizes protecting our name.

Proverbs says, "A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold" (22:1). Our reputation is important. People are watching us. They are watching how we treat our families, our employers or employees, our neighbors, and our friends. They form an opinion on us based on what they see. And that opinion is tied together with our name in their mind. Much like our name will stay with us our whole life (barring complicated court room procedures), once a negative reputation is formed in the minds of those watching us, it will take many years and a great deal of energy to change their minds about us.

That, in and of itself, might not be too big of a deal. After all, we can't live to please other people. So if others want to hold a grudge against us based on real or imagined transgressions, so be it.

Except that as believers, our names are tied together with the Name. When we accept Christ, we become Christians. So our behavior affects the reputation of the church. It affects the way people look at the God we serve.

The word Christian began as a derogatory description of Christ's followers. They were called little Christs. The name was meant as an insult. But the believers in the early church wore that name with pride. And we still wear it today. We are little Christs. We are His ambassadors to the world (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Many fathers tell their children not to do anything that would damage the family name. We should take the same advice as the spiritual family of Christ. We should live in such a way that we not only protect our good names, but also the name of our Savior.

The church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. Much like a literal bride takes the name of her new husband, we take Christ's name when we enter into a relationship with Him. Let us not take it in vain.

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