Plenty! Think of your names—you probably have three of them: a given name, a middle name and a surname. The last was a genealogical tip of the hat to your forefathers, the middle could be as varied as the imagination of your parents, and your main name—the one you recognize as yourself when somebody calls you—it is usually with you throughout your whole life.
Your three (or more) names are your legal identity, necessary for your birth, marriage and death certificates, driver’s license, passport, tax identification, and much more. You need to protect them from identity theft and make sure you are somehow clearly classified as different from someone else who has the same name.
We know people by their names. But not just people: also, towns, states, countries, mountains, rivers, flora and fauna, storms, products, and “much more.”
One of our first tasks when we lived among the Kewa people in Papua New Guinea was to learn their names. We soon found out that was not so easy: they had a name they used for official records, as when the government collected taxes from them, but they had names that only certain relatives could use, as well as “secret” names, nicknames and (later) baptismal names. Sometimes the names were laid to rest with the corpse of the person, not to be mentioned again for fear of calling upon their spirit, who now “possessed” the name.
Popes, kings, and other important people often have Roman numerals after their names: like Pope John II, King Richard IV, and RGIII. The latter instance also shows how initials come to stand for the name, such as LBJ and JFK.
Fraternities, clubs and other groups assign insider names to their members. This is also a notorious feature of criminal names, such as Al “Scarface” Capone, Cadillac Frank, Ice Pick Willie, and the Gorilla Murderer. Athletes love unique names too: note World Peace, King James, Teddy Ballgame, Black Mamba, and Yankee Clipper.
When Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers in Genesis 45:3 he says, “I am your brother Joseph,” and despite his Egyptian apparel, they immediately know who he is. Names in Hebrew in the Bible invariable “mean” something, that is they point to an particular event or characteristic of the individual. Peter means “the rock” and Barnabas “the encourager” but the name Satan or the Devil is associated with being the accuser, enemy, murderer, and ruler of darkness—to name just a few of his “nicknames.”
Do you have a nickname, perhaps only one that your spouse calls you? When I was a kid my folks would sometimes call me “angel,” not because I acted like one, but because they wished that I would! My brother Charles was “Chas” and his best friend was “Butch,” which sounds like he should have been a cowboy.
And speaking of cowboys, we probably have all heard (or should I say herd?) of the “Cowboy church.” I visited one near Waxahachie and, driving in, we were welcomed by men and women on horses. The pastor wore a patterned shirt, bandana neck chief, cowboy hat, jeans with a big buckle and cowboy boots. His sermon was punctuated with a number of cowboy and horse idioms. I have learned there is also a Cowboy church somewhere in Waco.
If we investigated and provided the names for churches, the pages would roll on and on. In Waco alone, I pulled up the names of over 100 and DaySpring was not even listed. Baptist churches are so frequent that in some towns there is often not only a “first Baptist,” but also a “second” or even a “third.” The names of the denominations can give us some clues about their theologies and histories: for example, Lutheran, Presbyterian, St. Louis Catholic, Nazarenes, Seven Day Adventists, Methodists, Pentecostal, and Non-denominational.
I grew up in Pennsylvania—named after William Penn—near a town called Shickshinny, along the Susquehanna River, both Native American names. There is a long list of Native American named towns in the state, such as Macanaqua, Nanticoke, Aliquippa, Catasauqua, Conshohoken, Junita, and Towanda. In Pennsylvania alone there were Native Americans from the Iroquois, Lenape, Delaware, Susquehanna and Shawnee tribes.
Companies strive to establish their name brands, so we immediately know what to associate with the products of Apple, Kleenex, Nike, Adidas, Lego, Amazon, Skype, Zoom and Google.
After the resurrection, Mary went looking for Jesus, but she mistook him for the gardener and it wasn’t until Jesus called her name that she recognized him. In Isaiah 62:2 and Revelation 3:12 we read that we will be given a “new name,” in addition to those Christians are already known by, such as believer, sheep, priest, brother (and sister), servant friend.
We are not short names that represent Christians—we just need to live up to them.
Karl and Joice Franklin (after Ben, I am told)