Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What's In A Name?

Over the past few years, I have picked up a few nick names.  Many of my classmates in seminary liked to call me C-Rich.  When I was ordained, some of my nephews started referring to me as Father Uncle Christopher.  More recently, I obtained the moniker Diesel Jesus over the course of a couple diocesan youth events.  Being known as Diesel Jesus became confusing as soon as someone shortened it to DJ (for those not in the know, DJ is my brother).  While I have welcomed all of these different names, DJ aside, I still prefer to go mainly by Christopher (don't worry if you've slipped and called me Chris).  Names are a large part of our identity.  In some ways, our names define us.  There have been a number of studies that suggest names given at birth can have an effect on how people develop and are perceived well into adulthood. 

Why am I spending all this time talking about names? Beyond the connotations that we currently associate with names, every name has an inherent meaning.  My name, for example, means Christ bearer.  This seems especially appropriate given my current vocation.  The same is true for names found in the Bible.  In fact, biblical names are often important to the particular stories in which they can be found.  In the beginning of the book of Ruth, we are introduced to a family.  This family has two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  These names don't mean anything to us, but, if we were ancient Israelites hearing this story, we would hear Mahlon and Chillion as (roughly translated) Sickly Little Guy and Weakening Little Guy.  Sure enough, they both die just three verses after they're introduced.  Not only are they characters in the story, their names give them their role in the story as well.  Biblical names are not always as morbid. 

I Samuel begins with an account of a woman who becomes so upset over the fact that she cannot bear children that she weeps is unable to eat.  She prays and prays for God to grant her a child.  Eventually, she conceives and gives birth to a son whom she names Samuel (which means God hears).  Not only is Samuel the result of God hearing his mother's prayers, Samuel goes on to be a prophet, or one who hears God.

We all have a role in the story of our lives.  If you are struggling to figure out what your role in life is, perhaps you can find some direction in your name.  I just hope you have a better name than Mahlon or Chilion.

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