What's In a Name

by - December 15, 2010

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With just a few days left to homeschool before we are Christmasing full-time around here, I started a new read-aloud book today with my girls. Judging from the first two chapters of Island of the Blue Dolphin, we're in for a grand adventure with a developing young heroine.

I ran across this early on:

"I come in peace and wish to parley," he said to the men on the shore.

None of them answered, but my father, who was one of those hidden among the rocks, came forward down the sloping beach. He thrust his spear into the sand.

"I am the Chief of Ghalas-at," he said. "My name is Chief Chowig."

I was surprised that he gave his real name to a stranger. Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic. Thus I was known as Wan-a-pa-lie, which means The Girl With the Long Black Hair, though my secret name is Karana. My father's secret name was Chowig. Why he gave it to a stranger I do not know.

My mind raced to the Christmas story. Joseph was told to name the child Jesus. Joseph is now on board with the whole Messiah thing — it only took an angel to convince him.

Can you imagine? Your fiancé tells you she's pregnant by the Spirit of God rather than by any act of unfaithfulness. While you're trying to figure out what to do with this tidbit of information, an angel appears to confirm the story (making it easier to swallow?!). The last straw is when he hears from angelic tongue, "Call his name Bob." Bizarre doesn't begin to do it justice.

Jesus — to many of us today in Western society, a name reserved for the Messiah, but back in the year of our Lord 0002 in the holy land, it was number three on the list of most popular baby boy names.

Why such a common name? Was God sending the message that Jesus is Everyman? That God is just like us? A common, ordinary guy, like your next door neighbor? He was the God of the Universe disguised as man.

Think of it: He, the Son of God, shed names like the Word and Light to take upon himself an earthly name like Bob. John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. To dwell means to pitch one's tent, and that means God went camping.

He bent low, staked the tent peg of sacred seed in the earth of a virgin womb and crawled inside the tent of human flesh and moved in next door.

The One with the name above all names unrobed himself of heavenly majesty to become Bob, our new neighbor. It's no wonder Israel didn't recognize Him.

The Old Testament law prohibits using God's name in vain. Unable to bring themselved to forming the name on human lips, the Jews wouldn't even write his full name in sacred scrolls, leaving out vowels so it could not be pronounced. It was too holy for such common use and vain repetition.

But how many times did God answer to the name Jesus while he walked the earth? Did he feel common? Did his name become meaningless? Did he blend in with the countless others who bore the same Hebrew name?

My life sometimes seems meaningless and common. When someone needs my attention, they call me by name. And so many call my name:

The responsibilities of life call us;
Children, husband, friends call upon us;
Our problems and worries beckon us.

Sometimes I cringe when I hear my own name called yet again. Do you ever get tired of hearing your name? Did He?

After he took the name Jesus and came to earth to redeem us, the Father highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name. And just like that, our neighbor named Jesus became heavenly King of kings, Lord of Lords and sent the Holy Spirit earthward to reside near to us in his stead. And someday the man called Jesus will ride to us on a white steed with another name: Faithful and True.

Then we, too, will get new names when we climb from our tents to become his neighbor on Gold Street and live in mansions he custom built especially for us. No one will bow to our new name like we will His, but it will be important. It won't become ordinary, overused, or worn out. It won't have lost its meaning or remind us of our earthly life. It will be the Father's pet name for his beloved child. Just like in the Island of the Blue Dolphin, it won't be a name one uses with a stranger. Instead it'll be an intimate sacred secret.

An edited repost of some thoughts that always return when I ponder his gracing us with his presence in a long-ago stable.

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  1. I wonder what our new names will be...what our Father will/has named us...

    Thanks for sharing this thought.

  2. My grandmother had given me a couple of boxsets of Newberry Award winning books, and I remember reading Island of the Blue Dolphins. Confess that I don't remember anything of the store other than reading it - but I remember enjoying all those books at the time.

  3. One of your best posts, Dawn. Thank you.


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