What’s in a Name?
Growing up with a name others constantly misspell (they leave out the ‘h’ so it’s Ester instead of Esther) has made me very aware of other people’s names. I never assume how to spell a name I hear, and I never assume how to pronounce a name I read.
When my uncle changed his name from Robert to Kyle, my mother had trouble wrapping her head around it. Her baby brother Bob wanted her to call him something she wasn’t used to? She wasn’t sure if she could do it. I couldn’t understand why she had a problem with it. Going from Uncle Bob to Uncle Kyle wasn’t a big deal to me.
My sister and I are very close, and have been all our lives. While I am two years her elder, strangers often mistook us for twins. In school, among friends, even at home, we would be called by the other’s name on a regular basis. To this day, I look up when I hear her name, exactly as I do when I hear my own.
In some cultures, a name is a reflection of one’s soul. To know someone’s true name is to have power over them. In other cultures, names are earned and can change.
I have always known that names carry an importance with them beyond any meanings found in a baby names book. While my name, Esther, means “star” or “good fortune,” it also carries the weight of the tale of the queen in the book of Esther who risked her life to save her people from a genocide. Sometimes when people hear my name, smile and say, “For such a time as this,” it can feel like a lot of pressure on me to do something great with my life. And yet, I love my name. It feels like me.
If names are reflections of our souls, it only makes sense that names sometimes must change. Especially in Western culture, when our names are given to us by adult caregivers while we are still infants, shouldn’t we be able to change those names if we wish when we are old enough to choose for ourselves? If a name is just simply wrong, what else can we do? Some people choose to be called by nicknames, or by their middle name rather than their first, but sometimes, the names you were given at birth just don’t fit. Sometimes a bigger change is required.
Changing one’s name is an honoured tradition. In the Bible, Abraham used to be called Abram. Sarai became Sarah. Paul was Saul. Israel used to be Jacob. Peter was born Simon. Esther was once Hadassah. Naomi renamed herself Mara.
Imagine Peter going to talk to his mother, and he tells her he found the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Anointed One has given him the name Peter, the rock upon which He will build His church, and Peter’s mother says, “Oh, Simon, I just don’t know if I can do that. I gave you that name. And I named you after so many family members. It’s just so much to ask!”
And, okay, yes. God giving someone a new name is a bit different from someone choosing their own name, but it’s still a sign of respect to call someone by the name they ask you to use.
If you refuse to call someone what they ask you to, and instead insist on calling them whatever name you choose, then you are selfish and you don’t really care about that person. You see, it’s not about you and your comfort; it’s about them. It’s their name. You wouldn’t like it if I insisted on calling you something you hated.
A name should be a reflection of your soul. And you should have the respect for others to use the name they ask you to use.