Skip to main content

What's in a name?

Genesis 17.3-8 & 15-16

A baptism or christening used to be the time when babies were given their names, usually very soon after they were born. That’s changed, of course. Parents now have to register our names with the government instead, and usually long before we’re baptised. And, of course, some people aren’t baptised at all, but they still have names!

Giving someone a name is something that most of us don’t get to do very often. We might get to name our pets, but even the most fortunate of us only get to name a child a very few times in our lives. People have asked me whether I like my grandchildren’s names, but that’s neither here nor there. I didn’t get to choose their names, or even to have a say. They are who they are. I got to help name their mother.

A long time ago I worked with a minister from Fiji. It’s the custom in Fiji to choose at least one name for each of your children which reflects the place where they were born. So he called one of his daughters Rose, because we were living in the county of Lancashire - the red rose county - and another one he called Wigan, because we were working in Wigan. It’s just her good luck I suppose that we weren’t working in Pontefract at the time!

Does anyone know what their name means? (If not, why not visit a site like to find out?)

Names are very important in the Bible. Abraham means ‘father of many nations’. God chose the name for Abraham as a sign that - because of his faithfulness in following God and believing in him - he would become an example to, and the ancestor of, millions upon millions of people.

Before God changed his name, he was called something very similar, Abram, but although Abram sounds like Abraham it has a very different meaning: it means high father. Perhaps that’s because he was supposed to be an ‘important father’, or perhaps it means he was expected to be someone very tall.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, had a name which means ‘princess’, and her name was changed by God too. But I think that was just to make her feel that she wasn’t being left out, because Sarai - her old name before God changed it - means exactly the same thing as Sarah. However, she too had shown great faithfulness and courage, so they both deserved a new name.

Simon, the friend of Jesus, was given a new name as well. Simon was a perfectly fine name. It means either ‘someone who’s a good listener’ or ‘someone who is listened to by others’. But Simon wasn’t a very good listener. He didn’t always hear what Jesus was really saying. And even when he did understand what Jesus meant, he didn’t always say or do the right thing. He wasn’t always someone who should be listened to. So Jesus gave him a new name, Peter, which means ‘Rock’. In the end, although he didn’t always listen properly or say the right thing straightaway, Peter was a solid kind of guy, someone dependable and trustworthy.

Jesus means ‘God saves’, someone who can rescue us or hold our hand when we’re in any kind of trouble, and ‘Christ’, the other name by which Jesus is often known, means ‘God’s chosen leader’. Funnily enough, people are often called Jesus - especially in other languages, not in English - yet no one is ever called Christ. But people can be called Christians, which means followers of Jesus, and baptism is one of the signs that we belong to Jesus and are being called to follow him all our lives.

Paige means ‘servant girl’ and ‘Elisa’ means ‘God’s promise’. So the name Paige Elisa is a reminder to us all that God will keep his promise to love and care for us, and in return he asks us to be his servants all our life long.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…