Hon­or­ing a per­son’s ho­li­ness by know­ing his name

Austin American-Statesman - - THE PLANNER - Judy Knotts is a parish­ioner of St. John Neu­mann Catholic Church, and for­mer head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Acad­emy.

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.

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