What’s in a name



I was asked recently why I don’t post more on this blog, and I think it’s because I haven’t got much to say. I want to know something before I say something. And I don’t want to say something that will damage the meaning of my name.

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately.

John Proctor and Juliet Capulet have very different perspectives on names. Proctor, a character in Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible declares, once he learns that his name will be displayed as a signifier of his attachment to witches in the Salem witch trials: “It is my name! I cannot have another in my life! I lie and sign myself to lies! I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!” Juliet, in Shakespeare’s most famous work Romeo and Juliet, says “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Some say that a name is a signifier of who you will be. Those who have named their daughters Joy or Faith may understand this. Some say a name is nothing more than an utterance of convenience, and should not limit who you will be or what you will do.

Names and their significance have been on my mind as I read through the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. What I’ve noticed is that for the Chronicler, names matter. For example, in 1 Chronicles 5:1, it begins to give a genealogy of Reuben, son of Israel. But it has to clarify something first. Israel (aka Jacob) had 12 sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Reuben was the oldest, and should have gotten the “birthright.” In other words. Rueben should have been the one that God’s favor and blessing followed most and from whom came the future of God’s nation, as well as receiving the inheritance of Jacob (Israel).


But, as we read in 1 Chronicles 5:1:

”The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph,son of Israel, so that he could not be enrolled as the oldest son; though Judah became strong among his brothers and a chief came from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph)”


Reuben didn’t follow God and didn’t leave a good legacy for his name, so his name’s rightful significance went to Joseph. You remember Joseph, he’s the one that was attacked, thrown into a hole, and sold into slavery by his brothers. He’s the one who got the rights of the firstborn son. Clearly, it matters to the Chronicler, to the nation of Israel, and the God of Israel that the legacy of a name is more meaningful than the legality of a name. Joseph had the birthright, but Judah is the one to whom God gave the future of his promise. It was Judah’s line that brought King David and, later, even Jesus. And don’t forget that even Jacob (Israel), wasn’t supposed to have the birthright either. We should be worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. But Esau chose to sell his name’s place for the instant gratification of some really good soup. So clearly, God chooses to use people that aren’t always deserving or rightful, but that repent, trust, and follow him.

Names are just sounds we make to identify people, but throughout our life we load them with meaning. And if someone ever writes a genealogy about us, we may only get a sentence to as our description. I think of Korah, who’s mentioned in Chronicles chapter 2. Korah was once fed up with following Moses. He thought that since they were all descendants of Israel and all God’s people, they shouldn’t have to listen to anyone but God. So he decided to rebel, and God killed him for his rejection of the leadership God has enlisted. In one moment of frustration, Korah spoke out against God and his plan, and that is what he’s remembered for. That’s what his name means now. He really should have said nothing, until he had something helpful to say. Had he said nothing and went to the Lord humbly, ready to hand over all the frustrated and angry parts of his heart, he would be remembered better.

We have more ways now than ever in history to say something. It takes a few fine motor movements to inform the world of whatever is on your mind. We don’t think about what we’re doing to our names and our legacies. At the end of our lives, when we’ve wasted it all on “speaking our minds” and “not holding back,” or on “living for ourselves” and “ignoring the haters,” we’ll realized that we’ve run away from God, dragging others of his children with us, and have destroyed the chance He gave us to leave a positive legacy along with our name. That’s why John Proctor wanted his name to be not remembered, and Juliet wanted hers to be gone altogether.
My project now is to speak only when I have something to say. The world is noisy and I usually have nothing to say that hasn’t been said by a noisier person. If I speak only when I have something to say, especially if I know it is faithful to God and his purposes, I can only possibly have a good name.


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