What's in a Name?

What's in a Name?

What’s in a name? It is a profound question that Shakespeare poses in one of the most famous scenes in one of the most famous plays ever. I am sure we all know the scene either from school or the theatre. Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II. We have:

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.... ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.

What’s in a name? Why does God, after he redeems us, command us in the third commandment to ‘not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’ or put positively (as the Lord’s prayer does) why are we called to honor God’s name? This question perplexes us today because much like Juliet in the play, we ask the question: ‘What’s in a name?’

For many of us today a name does not mean much. In our day and age, when we name our children, it tends to be little more than liking the sound of the name. Little thought goes into the meaning of the the name. Nevertheless, we still have an attachment to our name. It is after all, our name. The theologian who I study for my research, Herman Bavinck, says this in one of my favorite passages:

A name is something personal and very different from a number or a member of a species. It always feels more or less unpleasant when others misspell or garble our name: it stands for our honor, our worth, our person and individuality. But that linkage was much more vital in earlier times when names still had a transparent meaning and actually revealed the identity of a person or thing.

Bavinck touches on something that is true, doesn’t he? We find it frustrating when our names are regularly misspelled or mispronounced. If we find ourselves or our family in the midst of a controversy or a particularly horrible act is exposed to the light, we think about the fact that someone has hurt our family name. We strive to make a name for ourselves and make sure our names are not destroyed. 

There is a connection between a name and the person named. There is an intimate link between God and his name. It isn’t an accidental or arbitrary link but one that God establishes for himself because God names himself. In his name God reveals himself and who he is. His exhibits his glory (Ps 8, 72), honor (Lev 18; Ps 86, 102), his redeeming power (Ex 15; Isa 47), his service (Isa 56; Jer 23), his holiness (1 Chron 16; Ps 105). God’s name is great and holy (Ezek 36), awesome (Ps 111), a place of protection (Ps 20), a strong tower (Prov 18). By his name he saves (Ps 54) and because of his name, he cannot abandon Israel (1 Sam 12; Isa 48; Ps 23, 31, 143).

Names matter and how we use a name matters. Many of the problems we get into when talking about God go back to the fact that we don’t know how to use God’s name. We know what the name is, but we don’t understand what lies behind that name. We think that a name is just a bunch a sounds in the air, but Scripture tells us that names matter. Scripture tells us that the way we use these names matter. What’s in a name? Well, everything.

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