“... and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.” Isaiah 62 v 2
Frequently when people enter into new relationships, such as marriage, they change their names to reflect their commitment to the union. The change of name can also be symbolic of an association of love.
In the Bible and throughout history there are many recorded examples of people’s names being change, of nations being renamed and whole bodies of people called by a common moniker.
Abram became Abraham after he entered into a covenant with God that made him the father of many nations (Gen 17 v 5), and Sarai, Abraham’s wife, in turn became known as Sarah – their names were altered by God (Gen 17 v 15).
We talk freely of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and oft times forget that Israel was previously named Jacob. Remembering the story of his name change gives an indication of the significance of the alteration – Jacob fought all night and never gave up his struggle (Gen 32 v 24 – 32). Before long the name Israel was not just the name of one man but it was also the title of a nation of people and a land as well.
Jesus also did some personal naming with his disciples; He gave Simon the surname Peter and he also gave the surname Boanerges (the sons of thunder) to James and John the sons of Zebedee (Mark 3 v 16,17). This particular type of naming indicated that they were selected for a special place in Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus’ actions made the relationship between Him and the disciples a family connection. Not long after the selection and renaming of these people had taken place Jesus’ mother and brothers came to find him. When they called Him He answered “who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked around about on them that sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3 v 32-34)
Naming indicates a relationship just as much as the behaviour of a person does.
The first two gospels of the New Testament begin with the description of the person that they are talking about: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1 v 1) and “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1 v 1). Matthew begins with a genealogical list of all the ancestors of Jesus and in the final five verses it states, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: For he shall save his people from their sins. ... Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call him Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph ... called his name JESUS.” (Matt 1 v 23 -25) This was a fulfilment of prophecy found in Isaiah 7 v 15 and 9 v 6.
When the baby was born to be a servant to man the name Jesus signified His humanity, while Christ became the title of his status as a servant and the Son of God remained the designation of His divine nature. The names of Jesus give a direct link to His relationships with His fellow man and His heavenly Father.
The name ‘Christian’ indicates that one is Christ-like in nature and behaviour. People fight for this name and because of this name.
Sometimes different names are chosen by people who want their new name to reflect their understanding of a new identity and at other times the changed name is bestowed on a person.
Names are not just related to people, they are also related to objects, places and ideas. Names can reflect a set of beliefs and are clearly linked to individual and group identity.
So, what’s in a name? Everything.