What’s in a Name?

There was a time, at least in generations past, when people picked fairly normal names for their children; names like, John, Ken, Peter, Alice, Dorothy, and Lisa.  In recent years people have gone a bit outside the box: Americus, Jazzy, Twisha are just a few girl names and Cello, Exodus, and Hippo are just a few boy names that were around in recent years.  What kind of person calls their son Hippo?

Given names used to have a connection to something. My first name is the middle name of my father and my middle name is the namesake of my grandfather.  I was a bit more nontraditional with my youngest son’s name and chose Shadrach J. I went that direction not because it was unusual, although it is, but because Shadrach was one of the three men – strong in character – mentioned in the biblical story of Daniel. I wanted my son to be of strong character and to carry a name reflecting that. I’m happy to say he has developed such a character although I am still not certain he is too keen on the name.

In the biblical record, names often would reflect the character of the person bearing the name. It was not at all uncommon for God to change the names of people who would be instrumental in establishing his purpose. The name changes were not so much indicative of who the person was at the time, but who the person might become in fulfilling God’s scheme of history.

In John 1:42 we find the very short story of how Simon was renamed. Andrew, one of the first to begin following Jesus, went and found his brother Simon. He brought Simon to Jesus and Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas” which, as John tells us, is translated Peter. Furthermore, in Aramaic and Greek the names mean rock.*

As the Gospels unfold, Peter is often portrayed as anything but a rock. He’s a bit unnerving at times, impulsive, and often speaks way before he ever thinks about what he is going to say.  He finds himself making commitments far beyond his capability to fulfill them and goes out weeping when his failure is unwrapped. But…that’s not the end of the story. In fact, Jesus later said that Peter would be the rock upon which he would build his church!  Peter grew to reflect the strength of his name.

When we come to Christ, we don’t get a new name. Maybe we should, but we don’t. We do, however, get a new nature – Christian. A nature that grows in Christ to reflect the boundless limits of his love, the infinite measure of his grace, and the overflowing cup of his blessings. We are reflecting a promise – “a great big bundle of potentiality”!

The name on my Driver’s License has not changed but the person who checked the organ donor box is indeed changing.


*[Peter and Cephas are from the Aramaic and Greek word which means “rock.” It’s not at all clear whether, at that time, Peter was a common name. It seems that Jesus may have been assigning him a nickname. A name that would come to reflect his character and future in the economy of God.]


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Filed under Family, Family name, John 1-4

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