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What’s In A Name?

February 24, 2015

Denise Wedding

When I read the passage from the Hebrew Scriptures for this Sunday (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), the first thing that went through my mind was a song that was sung at our wedding.  This song is a song that I first heard at Cursillo either when I attended as a pilgrim in September of 2009, or soon after that.  It is one of Denise’s favorite songs.

I Will Change Your Name by D.J. Butler

 I will change your name

You shall no longer be called

Wounded, outcast

Lonely or afraid

I will change your name

Your new name shall be

Confidence, joyfulness

Overcoming one

Faithfulness, friend of God

One who seeks my face.

What is so special about this song?  Well, besides the promise that God will transform us and quite literally change our hearts, God can and does change our name.  In Denise’s case, her name wasn’t changed, and yet it was.  For many years, she had been Denise Moore and her two sons are Chase and Christopher Moore.  When we got married, we had our three Moore sons standing up with us.  My son, Alec with me and Chase and Christopher with Denise.  I can’t tell you how often we were teased about not having to change the monograms on anything we had (we didn’t have anything with monograms!) or how Denise wouldn’t have to change her Social Security Number (but she did have to change her drivers license from Alabama to Florida).  Yes, her name didn’t change in the literal sense, but both of our names did change in the very real and spiritual sense when we exchanged our vows.  We were starting our life out together as Denise and Michael Moore.  Nothing had changed and yet everything had changed.  What had changed was who we were as individuals and as a couple whom God had called to serve God’s people according to God’s design.

Today’s reading from Genesis is also about a name change.  We read in Genesis 17:1-7 that Abram, when he was ninety-nine years old was asked by God to walk before God and be blameless.  God made a covenant with Abram that God would make Abram exceedingly numerous, the ancestor of a multitude of nations (17:2, 4).  The Hebrew name, Abram, means “high or exalted father”.  However, with the promise God was making to Abram, God also changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of a multitude or many”.  And further along in the chapter, God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah because she too will be a part of God’s covenant blessing.  Sarai, in Hebrew means “my princess” and Sarah, in Hebrew, means “lady, princess, noblewoman”.  Their names were changed to reflect the change in their lives as a result of God’s promise to them in Genesis 12:1-2 — “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”  The changes in the names of Abram and Sarai represented something great indeed.  For they were transformed from an old man and an old woman without children of their own into the patriarch and matriarch of descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5).

One of the ways in which name changes do signify changes for people today can be found in the Roman Catholic Church.  When a man or a woman becomes a monk or nun, often times they take on a new name, usually that of a Saint from church history.  Also, when a child is confirmed, they too take on a “confirmation name” which is also usually of a Saint from church history.  The significance is that the individual’s life has been transformed by God in a very specific way and the name represents that change.  When Trappist Monk Thomas Merton was ordained as a priest, he took on the name Father Louis signifying his new vocation.

So, what is in a name?  Your name was given to you by your parents at birth or sometimes, as in the case of an infant adoption, by your adoptive parents.  It could be a family name (all three of our sons carry family names) or a biblical name specifically chosen for you.  Whatever the source of your name, it quickly becomes your own name.

Does God change your name?  In the case of Abraham and Sarah, God did quite literally change their names.  In the case of Denise and me, the answer is no… and yes!  Our names did not change in the literal sense at all.  However, on a much deeper level, both of us were transformed individually and as a couple.  And as called and chosen ones, we seek to serve the Lord wherever we are.

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