Naming people, places and events is always a significant act. A name memorialises a victory, a tragedy, an achievement. Children ask parents about the choice of their names, and learn something about the hopes and expectations of the parents. Of course, nicknames tell their own private and often funny stories. We see in the Bible the naming and renaming of people according to character and circumstances. The first created human being was called Adam, a word related to “adamah,” the Hebrew word for ground. Jacob, who stole his brother’s birthright, wrestled with a man till daybreak. His name was changed to Israel, meaning “he struggled with God.” Jacob then named the place Peniel, which means “face of God.” (Gen 32: 22-30) In the Book of Ruth, Ruth accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi to Jerusalem because of a famine in their country. But when the women greeted Naomi and exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” the name meaning pleasant, Naomi answered, “Call me Mara,” a word meaning “bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)
In the New Testament the parents of Jesus and John had no choice in the naming of their sons. Jesus means, “The Lord saves” and he will be also known as “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us.” We read of Jesus renaming his disciple Simon when he confessed his belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Simon would be known as Peter, a word meaning “rock.” When we read of Saul’s conversion in the Book of Acts and of the beginning of this ministry to the Gentiles we follow the career of Paul rather than of the former name Saul. The most significant event of naming in the Bible is found in Exodus Chapter 3 when God called Moses out of a burning bush. Moses was commissioned to return to Egypt to liberate his people from bondage. God introduced himself as the God of Moses’ ancestors, the God who heard the cries and the God who knew the sufferings of the oppressed people. But Moses sought to know the name of God. He received an answer that has continued to remind us who God is. The Hebrew letters that formed the answer can be translated as “I will be what I will be,” or “I am who I am,” or as the great Jewish religious scholar Martin Buber suggested, “I will be present as I will be present.” In other words God is Being, God is not to be identified or defined by one single word, but God is to be known as the God of the past, the present and the future. God is to be known through relationships, through His mighty deeds and His continuing revelation.
There are many metaphors we use to speak of God, for example, Father, Judge, Shepherd, Refuge. But we are unable to find any single human word or expression to contain our adoration and worship of our Creator, Provider and Redeemer. Jesus warns us of babbling in prayer, using God’s name in vain or for a display of our piety. To use a person’s name to define our own identity can be a great privilege and responsibility. The name Christian, applied to the early followers of the way of Jesus Christ, was most likely a nickname. People were being baptised in the name of Jesus and were proclaiming him as the promised Messiah, the Incarnate Word, the One whose life, death and resurrection revealed God’s grace and love incomparably. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” ( Col. 3: l7 ) Words and deeds of believers should honour the name of Jesus. We always need to examine our loyalty to Jesus Christ by reflecting on the way we speak and act in our home , workplace, in our relationship with those outside our immediate circle of friends and most of all in dealing with those we label as enemies.