An important role of new parents is naming their child. It used to be that Catholic parents named their baby for a saint, like Patrick, or for a feast, like the Assumption. Nowadays they choose a name to honor a relative, like Aunt Caroline, or to imitate an idol, like Taylor Swift, or to be somewhat unique, like Phoenix. Sometimes parents choose a name that represents what the child means to them, such as Diamond or Precious. Some creative parents invent names or invent spellings. These special names may be a challenge for others (like teachers!) to say or write.
Our name gives us identity. It is equivalent to us. That is why making fun of someone’s name is a cruel torment, an attack on the person. You know what I mean if anyone ever ridiculed your name. On the other hand, someone in love delights in having a tattoo of their beloved’s name, carving it into a tree or, in the case of teenagers, writing it over and over.
God apparently thinks names are important. He redubbed Abram and Sarai, his wife, Abraham and Sarah. God told Zachary to name his son John, and when that father did, he regained his power to speak. God instructed both Mary and Joseph to call His Son Jesus. It seems he wanted to make sure it was done. Later, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, meaning “rock,” to signify his role in the Church. And he gave James and John the nickname sons of thunder. Do you have a nickname? Do you like to be called by it?
As for the name of God, it was revealed to Moses as Yahweh. One whole commandment (#2) is devoted to ensuring that we revere God’s name. Jesus tells us that anything we ask the Father in his name will be done, and miracles were worked in his name. According to Scripture, his name “is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend” (Philippians 2:9–10). We have metaphorical names for God and Jesus, too. We call him king, shepherd, lamb of God, savior, fortress, and so on. Muslims have 99 names for God (Allah’s Beautiful Names). What is your favorite name for God?
You received your name officially at baptism. The priest met your parents at the door and asked, “What name will you give your child?” Then you were baptized addressed by that name. Mary Magdalene recognized Jesus when he pronounced her name. Stop a moment and imagine Jesus calling you by name.
People sometimes change their names. Movie stars do this. The pope does this. Formerly we Sisters of Notre Dame submitted three possible name choices that we would have as a religious. As an eighteen-year-old postulant who wanted to be named for Christ the King, I complied a list of 42 names that stood for “king.” It included such farfetched names as INRI, the initials on the crucifix that meant “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” In the end, I became Sister Kirene, for the chi-rho, the first three letters in the Greek for Christ.
There is power in a name. Remember the story of Rumpelstiltskin? No doubt your parent calling you by your full name had power to stop you in your tracks. Someone noted that one’s name is the sweetest sound of all. That is why Tony sings Maria’s name no less than 29 times in West Side Story.
• The Book of Revelation says at the end of time we will be given a stone with a new name written on it. (Revelation 2:17) What would you like God to call you?