What’s in a Name?

Laurel Meyer
Comment on this article

Grandmother Willa was a positive influence in my life. She was principled, yet understanding; helpful, but not overly demonstrative; instructional, but not confrontational. The stains on the kitchen ceiling of her small two-bedroom Cape Cod testified to her love of canning and food preparation for family dinners, and that she endeavored to provide for herself and others well into her senior years. She had many talents and many passions.

One of grandmother’s passions was family history. She was the one who first introduced me to family history when I was an older child, about age nine or ten. While visiting her one summer, she packed a picnic lunch for the two of us. Then, in her postwar Nash automobile, we drove to an old church and adjoining cemetery located several miles outside of town where many of my ancestors were buried. Some headstones dated back to the late 1700s. There is no doubt that grandmother determined it was time to introduce me to our family history, a passion and responsibility which she inherited from her mother and which she intended to pass to me.

The church grounds and cemetery were situated on top of a hill. The valley, dotted with small farms and pastures and gently rolling hills, were clearly visible below. The church property and cemetery were well maintained and are still in remarkably good condition today. So there, on a blanket in a grassy area under a large shade tree near the church building that bore my mother’s maiden name, we enjoyed our sandwiches, peach pie and beverages. Grandmother Willa proceeded to teach me about my ancestry and my family names.

One’s family name is very important. When I married, I acquired my husband’s surname. Several years later, during the weeks and months awaiting the birth of our son, we gave careful thought to the selection of his given name. The Bible states that “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1); and, “A good name is better than precious ointment” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). God knows our names. How else could our names be written in the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5)? And, the genealogies of many families are recorded in the Bible.

In recent years, my research has revealed many ancestral family names with rich cultural backgrounds and many national origins. Some ancestors passed their names to their children, i.e., Jr., Sr., I, II, III, etc., or named a child after a beloved family member, parent or ancestor. Grandmother Willa’s maiden name was passed to and incorporated into my father’s middle name. And the behavior of one’s ancestor or family member can cast either shame or honor upon their name and the name of one’s family.

God has many names. His names reveal His character, what He does and His relationship to us. A physical representation of Him is not necessary because His many names tell us all about Him. El Roi (the God who sees, Genesis 16:13) and YHVH Rophica (the God who heals, Exodus 15:26) are two of His many names. And, because I am baptized into His name, it follows that what I do, what I say and what I am reflects with honor or dishonor upon His name, which is the essence of the Third Commandment.

One of the most important and powerful responsibilities women possess is to influence and teach children. A mother who has a good understanding of God’s names can give her child a positive, proper image of God’s character, what God does and His relationship to us.

A child who does a “no-no,” or has a tendency to misbehave, may need to know that God sees what they are doing, and a child who is ill will be comforted to know that God heals and mends. A child can learn, over time, to respond to and embrace those godly qualities that will positively shape and contribute to a child’s journey towards baptism and to an incredible future.

Let us teach our children and grandchildren the value of a good name and a godly one, too, as we have been encouraged to do.