How did you decide what to call your child?
Did you pore over baby name books for hours drawing up long-lists then short lists? Did you consult the top 100 popular names list? (Sophia and Muhammad top the 2014 list, by the way.) Did you look to family precedent and tradition?
Sometimes the choices are not particularly well thought through. My brother knew a Mr and Mrs Applehead who called their daughter Rosy…
Sometimes choices are determined by positive or negative associations of others who held that name. “We couldn’t possibly call them John. John nicked one of my sweets when I was five. I could never look at my child without being traumatised if we called him that.”
Sometimes we choose names because they are distinctive and different, only to discover that every other parent of a new-born that year had gone for the same distinctive and different name. Who, before Frozen, would have guessed that Elsa would suddenly become such a popular name?
And we have no idea of how the “image” of a name may change. One of my brothers was given a name which at the time was unusual, and brought to mind celtic folk music, only for the name “Kevin” to take on a whole different load of resonances a few years later, more associated with Essex and Ford Capris.
In other cultures, the meaning of names can take on much greater significance. The name can be seen to shape the child. In Africa, I have met many Mercy’s, Patience’s and Hope’s, though my favourite does still remain “Lovingkindness”.
But I wonder, if we could choose a name , regardless of how it sounded or how difficult it was to spell, regardless of tradition or popularity, but a name that our children would come to live out, I wonder what that name would be?
What name, what gift of blessing, would we choose to bestow upon our child? The fruit of God’s Spirit, mentioned in the Bible, seem not a bad place to start: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The writer of that list was a man formerly called Saul. But when God called him from stoning Christians to following Christ, he gave him a new name too: Paul, meaning “small, humble”.
This man who had proudly arrested, beaten and killed Christians was now their humble companion, willing to suffer, to serve the one who had met him on that Damascus road.
As we encounter Jesus in our daily lives, I wonder what new name God may want to give us.