What’s in a name?

Do you like your name?  Ever wish you had a different one?

I’ll admit it: I’m not that fond of my first name, “Cameron.”  The name seems to have become somewhat more common of late — maybe even a little trendy — so that people are much less apt to get it wrong.  But throughout my lifetime, I’ve had it repeatedly misspelled, mispronounced, and misfiled.  I’ve been called so many different things that I’ve lost count.  Carmen.  Calvin.  Carlton.  Coleman.  Kevin.  And…Henry.  Yes, Henry.  (Don’t ask–I haven’t a clue.)

And as it turns out, not even my last name is safe territory.  You’d think “Lee” would be unproblematic–one syllable, spelled just like it sounds.  But I remember coming to the front of a registration line and giving my last name as requested.  “Is that L-e-i-g-h?” the young man asked, sounding out each letter.  I pointed at my more-or-less Asian facial features and replied, “Do I look like an L-e-i-g-h to you?”

That’s a tad testy.  Must have been standing in line too long.

Of course, I could have done worse in the name department.  Before I was born, my mother actually contemplated naming me Bruce.  Of course, no one knew who Bruce Lee was back then; he rose to fame about the same time I was in junior high and high school.  In retrospect, I’ve decided to take the fact that my parents didn’t name me Bruce as a sign of providence.  God was protecting me from getting beat up at school.

The way we handle and choose names today makes it hard to understand the importance of names in the Bible.  Children were sometimes given names as prophetic signs.  My personal favorite: in Isaiah 8:1-3, as a sign of the devastation God would bring through the Assyrians, the prophet was instructed to name his son “Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz,” which means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.”  (Go ahead, look it up in your baby-name book.  It’s under “M.”)

And then there’s the name of God.  Or perhaps I should say there’s the Name of God, as well as the names by which God is called.  Sometimes the Bible speaks of God’s Name, as if it should be rendered with a capital “N.”  The Name itself stands in for the very person of God, as when people seek, or glorify, or praise, or suffer for God’s Name.

And God is known by a variety of names, each of which expresses something about his being and character.  When Moses asked God his name, God replied, “I am who I am” (Exod 3:14)–suggesting not only that God exists, but exists eternally.  Other names of God communicate other attributes.  He is Everlasting, the Most High, Almighty.  He is the Lord of Hosts, commander-in-chief of the heavenly armies.  He is our Shalom and our Shepherd.

Even more remarkable may be the way God first introduces himself to Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exod 3:6).  God doesn’t accost Moses in the desert and say, “Look, here, Moses!  Do you know who I am?  I am the Most High God, the Lord of Hosts!”  Rather, God chooses to name himself by identifying personally with his people, with family.  Doesn’t that also tell us something about who God is, in his very being?

But the name that is most familiar to us is the one we learned from the lips of Jesus, the name that we should never take for granted: our Father.  When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them to call upon his Father as our Father.

When my kids were small, they went through a brief phase where they wanted to call me by my first name.  In my culture, and in many others, that would be unthinkable, a mark of disrespect for the parent’s authority.  But I chose to speak my heart to them instead.  “Listen, kids.  Anyone in the world can call me ‘Cameron.’  There’s nothing special about that.  But there are only two people in the whole wide world who can call me ‘Daddy.’  That’s special to me.  And I would miss it.”

They never brought it up again.

Abba, FatherWe call upon your Name.