What’s in a name? Apparently a great deal.

“I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

“When the shepherd puts forth his sheep, he calls them by name” (John 10:3).

The sweetest sound in all the world, we’re told, is our own name.

We can be dozing through the roll call, but the sound of our own name being spoken penetrates the mist and wakes us up.

We can be reading a report or newspaper and hardly paying attention. Our own name in black and white jumps out at us. It may as well have been in letters three inches high.

My name is who I am.

Our second son was christened John Marshall McKeever. Very soon after arriving home from the hospital, his maternal grandmother looked up from where she sat adoring this gorgeous child.  She said, “He looks like a Marty.” And just so easily, he became that.  (Marty says he’s glad. “All my life I’ve felt like a Marty.”  Whatever that means. Smiley-face here.)

In encouraging people to use my first name, I tell them, “The name Joe is like a rocking chair on the front porch. It encourages you to pull up a seat, take off your shoes and make  yourself comfortable.”

In my office for the funeral of one of his longtime associates, Dr. Billy Graham said, “Call me Billy.”  I smiled, and went right on calling him something other than that.   (His name is properly William Franklin Graham. I noted that Mrs. Graham and others closest to him always called him “Bill.”)

What’s your name?  Do you like it?  Ever think of changing it?

I’ve been reading “WLT: A Radio Romance” from the creative mind of Garrison Keillor.  I bought it at a used bookstore in Clinton, Mississippi last week.  It’s about the pioneer days of radio broadcasting as seen through one fictitious station in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

You get the feeling that this was pretty much how it was, although with a Lake Woebegone flavoring throughout.

In the story, the protagonist changes his name. Francis With was just too fuzzy and uncertain for a man of action like our main guy.  He chose to become Frank White.

Frank’s bosses, the owners of the radio station, have the last name of Soderbjerg.  When Ray, one of the brothers, expressed the desire to drop the “j’ (it’s confusing to people), his family rose up in protest.

The Soderbjerg aunts said, “If you’re ashamed of your own name and turn your back on your own heritage, then you’re in trouble from the start.”

Ray responded that back in Norway the family name had been Molde, taken from the village where their ancestors had lived.  When the family moved to America in 1881, their father had started a business and decided that Molde Ice Company didn’t sound right.  That’s how he invented for himself the name Soderbjerg.  The “bjerg” meant “mountain” and–vintage Keillor here–“Soder” came from “Minnesoder,” their new home state. (Their detractors called the radio brothers “soda-jerks.”)

For one reason or another, the Soderbjergs kept the spelling of their name. Some battles are not worth fighting.

I meet a lot of people who need to change their names.

In sketching hundreds of people (in churches, schools, shopping malls, restaurants, and hospital waiting rooms), I always ask for their first name to add to the drawing.  That’s how I run into the weirdest spelling of names and names that are basically unpronounceable.  Sometimes I ask, “Where did your mom get that name?”  And occasionally will add, “You sure sentenced you to go through life spelling  your name, didn’t she?”

That’s as close as I would ever come to telling someone, “Your name does not work, friend! Find something that does.” (Smiley-face. This is not a major concern with me.  I’m just trying to make a point.)

Name-changing has lots of scriptural precedents and seems to be okay with the Almighty. Particularly, if your name is not who you are, or if it’s a liability, changing it seems to be a good thing.

God did not mind changing people’s names when He was moving their lives to a higher plane of usefulness to Him and visibility to the world….

–Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”) in Genesis 17:5.

–His wife Sarai (I have no idea what that meant) became Sarah (“princess”) in Genesis 17:15.

–Jacob (“Heel-holder,” “trickster”) became Israel (“one who struggles with God”) in Genesis 32:28.

–When Solomon (“man of peace”) was born, God sent word that his name would be Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”), but apparently He was the only one using that name because no one else ever picks up on it.

Sometimes others changed names….

–Pharaoh changed Joseph’s name (Joseph is from the Hebrew verb “yasaph” meaning ‘to add”) to Zaphenath-paneah, an Egyptian term apparently meaning something like “God speaks; He lives.”  (Genesis 41:45)

–Gideon’s father changed his son’s name to Jerubbaal (“let Baal contend for himself”) in Judges 6:32.

And apparently, life itself changed the name of Saul of Tarsus to Paul. Acts 13:9 simply records the transition and never looks back.  Saul would be the Hebrew form and Paul (Paulus) the Roman of the same name, harking back to Israel’s first king.

An Old Testament scripture we all love–the 43rd chapter of Isaiah–has some interesting thoughts for the Lord’s people….

God knows our name, calls us by our name, and promises us a new name. (A new name would indicate a new reality, that we have become something other than what we were before.)

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine” …”Do not fear, for I am with you….everyone who is called by my name….” (Isaiah 43:1,5-7).

Even the Gentiles are included in these plans: “To them (outcasts such as foreigners and eunuchs who obey Him) I will give…a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:1-5).

The nations (i.e., the heathen) will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will designate” (Isaiah 62:2).

But my servants will be called by another name, because he who is blessed in the earth shall be blessed by the God of truth….” (Isaiah 65:15-16).

The Lord Jesus had something to say on this subject also….

“The doorkeeper opens (the door) for (the shepherd), and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

F. F. Bruce, British scholar, has this to say about John 10:3. “The flock would be small enough for im to know each of his sheep individually and distinguish them by name.  The name might be based on some special mark or feature.  In my youth, some shepherds in the Scottish Highlands not only called their individual sheep by name, but claimed that an individual sheep would recognize its own name and respond to it. In the picture here drawn by Jesus, it is the personal bond between the shepherd and his sheep that keeps them together as they follow his guidance; unlike a modern shepherd, the shepherd of Bible days did not have the assistance of a sheepdog.”

Jesus told the disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20).

I’m remembering (vaguely) a contemporary Christian song that goes “He knows my name.”  And an older oneL “There’s a new name written down in glory…and it’s mine. Yes it’s mine.”

“He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new name.” (Revelation 3:12).

His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and HIs name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:3-4).

He puts His name on me. How awesome is that!




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