There is a great diversity of names to be found in our community. And some bizarre ones. I remember the story of a couple in the 1970s with a surname Bystander. When their first child was born – a son – they named him “Innocent”! Poor child (now adult)! In the 1980s a British couple named their son after the entire Liverpool Football team – 22 names in all. I’d hate to fill out forms with a name like that. I remember the story of a man named William Stinks who applied to a Magistrate to have his name changed. The Magistrate was most obliging: “I can certainly understand why you would want to change your name. What would you like to change it to?”. “Bill Stinks,” the man replied.
Our names mean a great deal to us, even if most of us tend to conceal the middle name given to us by our parents. Consider our reaction when someone misspells or mispronounces our name.
Hearing one’s name being called out from the midst of a crowd can set one’s heart to skip a beat or two: “Who is it? . . . Who knows me here?” To be called by name is to be known personally, and to hear one’s name being called in such circumstances is to be reminded that one is more than just a face in the crowd. A name implies a relationship, with some names being reserved for those closest and nearest to us, with whom we share much more of ourselves than with others.
The other day as I was walking through the Children’s Hospital, I heard someone call my name. The conversation not only changed my attitude to the space where I stood, but changed my outlook on the present moment. No longer a stranger in a foreign place, bearing a burden on my own, the mere act of someone calling my name was a precious gift. I was known! Someone cared!
Now, I have to confess that I struggle with names. I have to work hard to remember names of people that I meet. I make a conscious effort to use the person’s name in the hope that I remember it. It is, for me, an act of caring.
There is no place more lonely than in a crowd of people. By remembering and calling a name, we bring people into relationship – into community. It was an act undertaken by God in special ways in the Old Testament – renaming Abram and Jacob as a demonstration of something new in their lives. In the New Testament we are told that God knows His people by name. When Jesus saw a man up in a tree watching, he called him by name – Zaccheus – and then shared a meal with him.
Who knows your name?
November 17, 2002