What’s in a Name?

February 3, 2019


We are identified by our name.  We use it on everything from driver’s licenses and legal documents, to name tags such as the one I wear at Evenglow, and items we wish to identify as our property or our work.  When someone calls it, we respond.  In fact, “there is scientific evidence to prove that hearing one’s own name tremendously impacts on the brain.”*  

Yet we did not choose our original names, our parents did.  Some of us may have been named to honor an ancestor.  Others perhaps after someone famous that our parents admired, or maybe it was just because it was a popular name at the time.  But often our names are chosen on the basis of their meaning.  My original birthname was Renee, which means ‘reborn’.  Then my adoptive parents named me Karen, which means ‘pure’.  Isn’t that a beautiful picture of the new birth we have through Christ?  When we are reborn through our faith in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, we are cleansed of our sin and become pure in God’s sight.  My husband’s name, Edward, means ‘rich guardian’.  And I do consider myself both richly blessed and well protected by him.  Do you know what your name means?   There are plenty of online sites that you can use if you do not know the meaning of your name and wish to look it up.

Sometimes we change our name.  A woman’s last name changes when she gets married, although nowadays that is not always the case.  Celebrities often change their name to something that will give them more popular appeal.  I’m sure some of you know that Marilyn Monroe’s real name is Norma Jeane Mortenson, although she often used the last name of Baker, her mother’s married name from her first marriage, before becoming the famous Marilyn Monroe.  Elton John even wrote a song about her called “Candle in the Wind – Goodbye Norma Jean”.  But do you know Elton John’s real name?  It is Reginald Kenneth Dwight.

When God changes a person’s name, it is usually to establish a new identity.  In our first Scripture reading (Genesis 17:1-8,15-16) you heard how God changed Abram’s name to Abraham when he was 99 years old.  Abram means ‘high father’ and Abraham means ‘father of a multitude’. You also heard how He also changed the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai, which means ‘my princess’, to Sarah, which means ‘mother of nations’.  He did this as part of His covenant to make their descendants his chosen people, of which we are among through our faith in Christ, as Galatians 3:29 tells us, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Do you remember what Sarah did when she was told she would have a son even though she herself was quite old?  She laughed.  Laughed at God himself!  Therefore God told Abraham to name his son, (the child Sarah conceived and gave birth to in order to fulfill God’s promise) Isaac, which means ‘laughter’!

In our second Scripture reading, we are faced with a seeming conundrum.  Jacob (whose name means “supplanter”, because he tried to take the place of his brother by stealing his birthright) wrestled with a ‘man’, who then changed his named to Israel (which means ‘having power with God’).  Now remember, it was God who changed Abraham’s and Sarah’s names.  So who is this ‘man’?  The clue is right within the passages.  Jacob understood that he had struggled with God, for he said in Genesis 32:30 "I have seen God face to face, and my life was spared.”  Therefore, “many believe the person who fought and wrestled with Jacob was not (a man nor) an angel but the member of the Godhead who became the Son. He was the same one who had appeared to both Abraham (Genesis 12:7, 17:1, 18:1) and Isaac (Genesis 26:1, 24) in the form of a 'man.' He later would be known, after being born through a human, as Jesus Christ.”**

And it was also Jesus who changed the name of the disciple originally named Simon (which means ‘God has heard’) to Peter (which means ‘rock’).  And yet after He had changed his name, Jesus still occasionally called Peter ‘Simon’.  Why? “Probably because Simon sometimes acted like his old self instead of the rock God called him to be. The same is true for Jacob. God continued to call him ‘Jacob’ to remind him of his past and to remind him to depend on God’s strength.”***

What about us?  God knew our human name even before we were born!  The prophet Isaiah said, “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” (Isaiah 49:1).  Not only that, but someday God will give us a new name, too!  Revelation 2:17 says that God will give to the one who is victorious a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.  And did you know that Jesus also has a name that only He knows?  In Revelation 19, in an event that takes place at a time that is yet future, John mentions three names for Jesus:  ‘Faithful and True’, ‘Word of God’, and ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’, but also says “He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself.”  Philippians 2:9-11 says of our Lord Jesus, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Jesus’ name is above all other names!  There is still so much about Jesus that we won’t be able to comprehend until we are united with Him in the heavenly kingdom.  His glory and might is unfathomable by our limited human minds. 

Indeed, all three persons of God have many names in the Bible.  If I tried to list them all here in this sermon, you would no doubt start pointing to your watches!  But suffice it to say, that God is so great, in such an infinite number of ways, that even the vast amount of descriptive names given him in the Bible do not do him justice. 

Best of all, the Bible says that unlike the Jews in the Old Testament who were not allowed into the Holy of Holies in the temple, and not even allowed to speak the name of God, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God's presence.” (Ephesians 3:12).  Many people get excited over being in the presence of human celebrity, but don’t realize the immense privilege that is ours through Christ.  We can come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.  We can cry out “Abba, Father” to our heavenly Father as a child would cry out to their daddy.  And we can cry out to the one who has the name above all names, Jesus.  Amen.





"Names of God"  (Laurell Hubick)


"Just Say Jesus"  (7eventh Time Down)