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Names

June 13, 2013
Nametag

Photo by Chris Nickels

During his life, one of the (many) gifts my maternal grandfather gave his grandchildren was their own special name. It was a kind of like a nickname though it didn’t always resemble our proper name. I’m not sure exactly why or how he chose all the names, but I’m sure he had his reasons. And these names were the primary way he addressed us. I was named “Pal.” He called my brother “Schnitzel” (my grandfather was of German ancestry). Other siblings and cousins he gave names like “Pretty Girl,” “Tweeter,” and “Mike.” Never once did I enter his presence without hearing, “Hi Pal!” These names were very important to him (and to us), and helped form a wonderful bond in our family.

The sad fact is that naming is sometimes used in very negative and destructive ways in our world. So this is another reason I am so thankful for being formed by my grandfather through a very positive and life-giving practice of naming. Naming is a means of relationship, and if used as intended, can be a vital way to connect with God, with each other, and with God’s creation.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. (Gen 2:18-19 CEB)

In the first story in Genesis God is naming the elements of creation that God ordered from chaos. And in the second story humanity is invited to join the Creator in the act of naming. If naming is intended for such a cosmic purpose, then it is no wonder why naming can be so destructive and create so much hurt when it is abused.

Last Sunday in my congregation we reflected on the narrative in Genesis 2. Our Conference Minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales preached on this text and helped us explore the act of naming. Then in conversations around tables we engaged some questions she suggested to explore this story and the practice of naming:

What does your name mean?

Do you know how you got your name?

Does the meaning of your name describe who you really are?

What other names would people use to truthfully describe you?

What characteristics would Jesus use to describe how he wants his followers to be and act?

In what ways have people in the congregation helped to “name” or form you?

We ended our time, naturally, by giving each other a name. It came in the form of a blessing we personally shared with each other: “You are God’s beloved daughter/son.”

Jenifer Halteman Schrock wrote, “Naming is a celebration of diversity…”(1). We are part of a wonderfully diverse creation of God’s making. According to this Story we were created for relationship. Which means we have the opportunity, in how we name and address one another, to build relationship and form each other in life-giving ways.

Among other things, by giving his grandchildren a diverse collection of names, my grandfather helped us all to clearly understand that we were dearly beloved. And four years ago, when the time came to name our firstborn son, my wife and I called him William, after my grandfather.

May our “names” and our “naming” demonstrate the kind of relationship and shalom that God desires for all creation.

(1) Talkabout God’s Good Creation: For Families and Congregations. Gather ‘Round, Summer 2013. Published by MennoMedia and Brethren Press. Pdf, p.23.

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