I recently visited the Christian Resources Exhibition in Birmingham, to be tempted by an array of books, DVDs, CDs, church decorations, furniture and vestments, and information about retreats and so many good causes to support. Amongst the stands I met David giving away copies of a book that he had compiled, a collection of around 2,000 names, their meanings, various spellings and history.
In his play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare asked the famous question, "What’s in a name?" According Juliet, "that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" as she tries to reason that Romeo’s name in itself, indentifying him him as a member of a family hated by her own family, doesn’t mean that he is himself hateful. But in fact their family identities lead to their tragic deaths.
Names have great power. They provide others with a way to identify us, while to some extent giving us our own identity, though we would be foolish to believe that we are solely defined by our name – we only have to see the differences between people who share the same name!
When I became a Christian my name became very important and special to me. I don’t mind being called Chris but I much prefer the complete Christine, ‘one who carries Christ.’ I was very moved when David shared with me how significant it had been to him to discover that his name means ‘beloved’. He has produced his dictionary of names to encourage parents to think carefully about the names they give to their children. He said, ’In scripture, names had a habit of fulfilling their meaning.’ And there is much evidence that a person’s name can affect their life profoundly. Researchers say that someone named Jacqueline or Steven will generally fare better in life than Latrina or Butch. Is it a coincidence that the world’s fastest man is called Bolt?
"Your name can influence the assumptions that other people make about your character and background, and thus the chances you are given in life," says Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. "It can also be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If your name sounds intelligent, successful and attractive, you are more likely to act those things."
We are told in the Bible that God knows each one of us by our name and He calls us by our name. We have an identity in God - known, loved, precious. When we discover what our name means to God we will be more likely to become the person God knows us to be. It is possible, as a friend of mine believes, that God has His own name for us.
This month we have two services in church in which we will be remembering names that are important to us. On 3rd November at 5.00pm there is the annual All Souls service in which we remember those we have loved who have died. The Remembrance Day service is on 10th November at 3pm in church in which we will remember by name those from our parish who lost their lives in the two World Wars. In both these services we remember names and the lives they signify with love, respect and gratitude.