Name, Names, and The Name (A Sermon, of Sorts)

Sometimes when I sketch someone, I’ll ask their name so I can write it at the bottom. Most often, it’s a normal name, but once in a while, I’ll hear, “Arkadelphia Sue” or “Tae-D’Antonio” or some such. I ask how they spell it and, “Have you ever met another person by that name?” Usually they haven’t.

I wonder what in the sam hill the parents were thinking, saddling a child with a name like that! They have guaranteed that he’ll go through life spelling his name for everyone he meets.

Maybe carrying a name like Joe makes me think about things like that.

I was named for one of my Mom’s uncles, Joe Noles, and a family friend, Neil Barker. Interestingly, with the internet, the daughters of both these terrific men read this blog and occasionally respond. Myrtle, daughter of Uncle Joe, lives in Houston. Mary Frances, daughter of Neil, lives in Rome, New York. (She says he spelled it “Neal.” Too late, M.F.)

This was in Saturday’s news….

“A family court judge in New Zealand has had enough with parents giving their children bizarre names here, and did something about it. Just ask ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.'”

Yep. That was her name.

The judge allowed the 9-year-old girl to choose another name. He should have allowed her to choose other parents!

The paper isn’t saying what her new name is, adding she’d been so embarrassed she had never told her closest friends her real name.

In the judge’s ruling, he cited some of the unfortunate names he’d run across in his court. How about a man named “Fish and Chips,” one named “Yeah Detroit,” and then, “Keenan Got Lucy” and “Sex Fruit.”

There oughta be a law.

I’ve previously mentioned my “present favorite” Western movie, “Open Range,” starring Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner. In the story, Duvall, known as Boss Spearman, reveals to Costner that his real name is Bluebonnet. Now, he made him swear never to tell a living soul, but the cameras were rolling and we all heard, so the secret is out.

I could fill several pages with odd names I’ve encountered through the years. Mary Lee Sumrall, welfare officer in Columbus, MS, was filling out papers on a client who gave her name as “Ninthamay Terry.” When asked how she came by such a name, the woman replied, “I was born on the Ninth of May.”

Which makes us wonder what if she’d been born on September the twenty-third.

I met Auburn waiting tables in a restaurant in Birmingham and made a little joke about her name. “Bet you have a sister named Alabama.” She said, “I have two sisters, Tulane and Cornell.” Surely, I thought, she was putting me on. “I have four brothers–Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, and Duquesne.” I said, “Lady, I don’t believe a word of this.”

She said her father was Stanford Bardwell and her mother’s name was Loyola. They were engaged before it occurred to them they both had colleges as names and decided to have some fun with their children. “We’ve been on Art Linkletter’s House Party (a wildly popular TV show of the 60s and 70s), in ‘Ripley’s Believe It or Not,’ and on the front of Parade magazine.”

She had formerly been a flight attendant with Southern Airways. Not long after, I was flying from Dallas to Columbus and asked the attendant if she’d known a co-worker by the name of Auburn. She smiled, “Auburn Bardwell–had all those weird named brothers and sisters!”

A former editor of the Wall Street Journal, I think it was, carried the formidable name of Vermont C. Royster, the ‘C’ standing for Connecticut. His parents had given every one of their children the names of states. No imagination, I guess.

Somewhere–the Readers Digest perhaps–I picked up a story about a little town in California where a lot of ex-hippies settled down to lead respectable middle-class lives. The only clue to their former existence is the loony names their children still wear: Blossom, Crimson Clover, Moonbeam, Starlight, and such. On the first day of school, therefore, teachers had learned not to be shocked by the names of the children entering their classes. This year, the first grade teacher greeted each child and called them by the names their parents had written on the little do-hickey hanging around their necks. One child was named “Fruit Orchard,” which struck the teacher as carrying things a little far, but she called her by her name. She noticed, though, the little girl was unresponsive when her name was called.

At the end of the day, the teachers helped the children find the correct school bus and plan for their stop. Parents had been told to write on the back of the name tag where the bus was to let their child off. The teacher turned over Fruit Orchard’s tag and read, “Elizabeth.”

To the Hebrews, a person’s name was his identity, much in the same way as the American Indians. Sometimes, both ethnic groups would wait until the individual’s character had asserted itself before assigning a name, or even change it once something remarkable happened to make another name more appropriate.

Iron Eyes Cody was a veteran Indian character actor in the early days of Hollywood. In his autobiography, he writes about one of the men from his tribe who worked alongside him. Years earlier, when two tribes had been warring, this particular brave had entered the lodge of the enemy and killed a number of them. Thereafter, his people gave him a new name: “Goes in Lodge.” (I love the understatement of that.)

In the Old Testament, a newborn baby reached out and took hold of the heel of his twin brother. So his parents naturally named him “Heel-holder,” which is the literal meaning of Jacob. Look it up and the books will say the name means one who is a supplanter or a deceiver, but this is the point: he hangs on and gets a free ride from the other fellow.

When God got hold of Jacob and after the man’s character had changed, the Lord changed his name to Israel, “one who struggles with God.” That tells us that God would rather have someone struggle with Him than take advantage of his brother.

Some of the Old Testament prophets were instructed by the Lord to give their children names-with-a-message such as “Lo-ruhamah” (no mercy) and “Lo-ammi” (not a people). No one asked the kid what he/she thought of such a moniker, but we can assume they weren’t too thrilled. Of course, this was back when mommies and daddies were saddling their young’uns with titles like Methuselah and Barzillai and Belteshazzar, so maybe they fit right in.

There used to be a wonderful African-American preacher by the name of S. M. Lockridge. For a time a quarter-century ago, he was on every SBC program and extremely popular. He would get a big laugh by explaining that his name was Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. What about “Abednego,” the third Hebrew lad from the Old Testament book of Daniel? Lockridge said, “My momma left that one off intentionally. She didn’t want anyone calling her son ‘a bad Negro.'”

We’re told–I can’t prove this–that cowboys used to refer to a person’s name as their “handle,” as in, “Howdy, podnuh. What’s yore handle?”

That’s precisely what a name means in our culture today, just a handle, something to call someone. Rarely does the name parents give a child carry any kind of reference to their character, heritage, or destiny.

Biblically, that’s quite another matter, as we said above.

Revelation 2:17. God gives us a new name. Because we are new people in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).

Franklin Graham wrote a book titled, “The Name.” That name, in case you’re wondering, is Jesus.

“In the beginning was the Name,” he writes. “At the end will be the Name. In the present time, all things depend upon the Name. The Name is above all names.”

The early apostles agreed. “Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) “God has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

The most controversial name on the planet for the last 2,000 years has been these five letters: Jesus.

In April of 1999, at the memorial service following the school shooting at Columbine, Franklin Graham spoke of the faith of student Cassie Bernall, who had stood to her feet when the shooters asked if anyone in the classroom had faith in Christ. They killed her on the spot. “I believe Cassie went immediately into the arms of Almighty God,” Graham told the audience.

That day, Franklin spoke of Cassie’s faith and appealed to each person in the audience to make a similar confession of faith in Jesus as she had done. After the event ended, a man came up and said, “You offended me.” When Graham answered, “Yes sir.” The man just kept repeating, “You offended me.” He assumed that it was the appeal to put faith in Jesus that had offended the man.

Over the following days, newspapers criticized Franklin for his “offense” at the memorial service. The head of a liberal interfaith organization said, “I felt that he was trying to terrorize us into heaven.”

Such is the way the name Jesus is received in the world. But, lest anyone think that this is remarkable and ought not to be, we do well to recall the words of the Lord Himself. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”(Matthew 10:34). By “sword,” Jesus meant “division,” which is the word He used in a similar statement found in Luke 12:51.

Speak of religion or God all you like, no one is offended. Talk of faith and belief and values, you’ll do just fine. But mention Jesus and it’s all over.

No one is neutral concerning Him. Everyone chooses up sides.

Which, I submit, is precisely the way God intends it. After all, that’s what happened when this Man of Galilee walked into a village and began to speak. Everyone took a position; they loved him or hated him.

When you and I call ourselves Christians, we are choosing to wear His name.

What an honor. What a burden to make sure we represent Him well—with integrity, kindness, strength, and faithfulness.

But get ready for opposition. They didn’t like Jesus; they won’t care for you. To a small extent, you will begin to learn what it means to fellowship in His sufferings.

1 thought on “Name, Names, and The Name (A Sermon, of Sorts)

  1. You are right – this is a sermon of sorts and it will sorta be a sermon in a few weeks at Cammack United Methodist Church. Hope you have a great vacation and God bless!

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