Honoring a person’s holiness by knowing his name
Such a simple thing: I stick out my hand and say with a smile, “Hello, my name’s Judy, what’s yours?”
This works in business circles and often breaks the corporate awkwardness in receptions and meetings. It works in social settings where sometimes strangers are among the guests. And it works when I see homeless people on street corners or in food lines. Someone has to make the first move in all of these situations. A smile paves the way, and exchanging names is the start of a relationship no matter how fleeting.
A name is more than a name. It has significance, power and deserves some sort of reverence. In our schooling, we learned that there are nouns — labels for persons, places and things. Some nouns are common nouns, like lake or grandmother. When we insert a name, such as Lake Superior or Grandmother Stuart, they become proper nouns, and we show respect, I think, by capitalizing them.
Expectant parents pour over books and websites of baby names or explore family history. They want the ideal name for their baby. Some add junior, or a Roman numeral to a name to carry on the family legacy.
In the Jewish tradition, babies are often named after someone who died, at least, beginning the new name with the same letter to connect the child to family history and remembered virtues.
In the Christian world, parents once were expected to name their child after a saint, a middle name might suffice, although this is less pressured today and thus there are fewer children in classrooms named Agatha or Clement and more named Amber and Carter.
In Native American cultures, Dr. Elisabeth Waugaman tells us in “Names and Identity: The Native American Naming Tradition” that children might have two or three given names during their lifetime which “inspires the individual to continue to change throughout life.”
People entering the religious life are often encouraged to take a new name to signify their identity and commitment to the faith. Even Popes go this route. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope of the Roman Catholic Church on March 13, 2013, chose as his papal title, Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi. He explained to an audience of journalists days later why he had chosen the name: “For me, he [St. Francis of Assisi] is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?” It is easy to see the connection here between these two humble men named Francis.
Homeless friends of mine, have self-selected names — Bear, Mighty Mouse, Little Feet, Wolf, Shorty, Chief, Reptile, Popcorn, Momma, Mississippi, Crash and Rodeo. These names are precious to them and I use them with joy.
When I was a young child, growing up with a very Catholic dad, I remember hearing about The Holy Name Society. I had no idea then what it meant, besides imagining some group of serious adults with secret handshakes. Later, intrigued, I checked out this society. It had its roots as early as the 13th century as a group open to lay people and clergy promoting reverence to the holy name of God. I have read that Jews will not pronounce G-D in everyday usage. It is “the name that cannot be spoken.” How amazing is our common awe for the creator,
As a culture today, we have drifted from the direction in Philippians 2:10, “that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend…” to people using OMG as a standard remark when astonished. To my way of thinking, this casual use of OMG is actually a violation of the Fourth Commandment: “Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” However innocent an action, this still seems an affront to our God and to people of faith.
Names are the most intimate symbol of a person’s being. They are intertwined. The name becomes the person. The person becomes the name.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43: 1 Every person is a gift from God.
Every name is holy.