On the power of a name

By Fr. Stewart Murray
This article previously appeared in Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.

One of the most humbling events in life is when one has the privilege of naming a child. I still remember the long conversations my wife and I had when we were awaiting the birth of our second child, developing lists of boys and girls names. Should we choose names from the long list of family names, thus reflecting family tradition or do we choose something new and different. ( I still think Hezekiah would have been a great choice !) We tossed around many names and even when we settled on what we thought was best, we had to wait to see the little one to see if the name matched.

Our name is very much a part of who we are; it is bound up with our very sense of self and our identity. Have you ever, perhaps as a teen, looked into the mirror and 'tried' on a different name ? But no matter what we tried it did not feel right. People do change their name, often in times of personal renewal, in an attempt to become a different person and begin a new life.

When I was younger, as a sign of respect one would never address an older person by their first name; when permission was given to do so it was something very special. Being on a first name basis with someone signified a relationship that was more than a passing acquaintance. I think that it is very hard for families of people with Alzheimer's and dementia when the loved one forgets their names because it is one more sign of loss, the loss of that special relationship.

Our culture is becoming increasingly impersonal. We have usernames and numbers as personal identifiers and we can at times seem invisible to the people we pass on the street or even to those who live next door. As a result we can develop a sense that we do not matter or that we are just another faceless person in the crowd. It is at this point we need to remember that God knows our name and that in His eyes we are precious beyond measure. I always remember the wonderful passage from Isaiah 49:16 " Behold, I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands...." and Christ's own words in Matthew 10:29 " And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." Such powerful words are the remedy for the impersonal attitude of our culture. In our Parish communities we strive to see everyone as a gift that God has brought into our midst and we strive to know each person by name.\

The power of a name is highlighted for us on January 1st when the church celebrates the Naming of Jesus. At this time we remember the fulfillment of the promises of the Annunciation when the Angel 'announced' to the Blessed Virgin " ...thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." Lk 1:31 The name Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua which can be translated as 'God saves/delivers'. Saying the name of Jesus brings the presence of Jesus into our minds and hearts. The name of Jesus speaks of God entering into our time and opening to all the way of eternal life. The name of Jesus speaks of the love, hope and promises that are the heart of the Gospel. In the words of hymn 377 verse 2

"Jesus - the Name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease;"

Let us use the name of Jesus with love and as a way of entering into a deeper understanding of the love and mercy of God.