My niece and her husband are in the process of thinking of the right name for their next baby boy. It’s a crucial decision, for the lad will carry that name throughout life. Mary and Joseph were exempt from this duty because the Angel Gabriel gave them orders from heaven that Mary’s son should be called Jesus. Now that’s an appropriate name: it means “God saves.” One day my mother informed me that she and my sister had learned the meaning of my name. “Kathleen means pure,” she said. “No wonder you entered the convent.” Do you know the meaning of your name?
Names stand for us. Knowing someone’s name gives us a kind of power over him or her. Moses was privileged to learn the personal name of God, which is translated Yahweh. Our Jewish brothers and sisters have so much reverence for God that they do not dare say or write this name. Wouldn’t it be nice if all Christians handled the name of Jesus with such care? After all, “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 1:10). There is a whole commandment devoted to honoring God’s name. And in the church year there is a day in honor of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3) and one for the Holy Name of Mary (September 12).
Names are significant. How frustrating it is when we can’t remember someone’s name. (I’ve started saying, “I don’t remember your name, but I know I like you.”) And misspelling someone’s name is considered an insult.
It used to be the custom to christen children with a saint’s name, at times with the saint whose feast was celebrated on the day of birth. (Pity the child born on the feast of St. Walburgis or St. Kunegunda!) This was a beautiful custom because the saint became the child’s patron saint, a special friend, someone to imitate and to turn to in times of need. Confirmation was another opportunity to adopt a saint, although today it is fine simply to “confirm” the name given at baptism.
In the Bible God had a habit of changing people’s names to signify a new role in life. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah, Simon became Peter (the Rock), and Saul became Paul. It’s said that we like to hear people say our name. One of my favorite Scripture verses is “I have called you by name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1). This Easter we heard again the account of how Mary Magdalen realized that the “gardener” was Jesus risen from the dead when he said her name. Imagine the day when you awake from the dead and hear Jesus pronounce your name!
People in love often have nicknames for each other, sometimes private ones. What do you think Jesus would call you?
Scripture says that in heaven we will be given a new name. What name would you like?
Muslims speak of the 99 beautiful names of God. In your spare time, you might draw up a list of 99 beautiful names for Jesus.