Saturday, January 20, 2007

What's In A Name?

I've been thinking lately about our attachment to identity. We attach a lot of importance to how we are addressed, both in terms our personal names and our nationality.

Two things have brought this up for me recently, the unionist/separatist debate over the future of the United Kingdom... and one of the elements observed in the bullying of Shilpa Shetty. In the former case, I explained in an earlier post how I would feel if the UK split up (I don't consider myself English but British), obviously other people feel differently about that and it doesn't make either them or I, right or wrong. There is no state, no law that can define how we identify ourselves according to international heritage... although they can of course refuse to recognise the nation to which we claim to belong's existence. In the latter case, Ms Shetty was labelled as "Princess" or "The Indian" or had a "surname" attributed to her out of ignorance. It seemed to me that what deeply hurt her initially, was the simple refusal of some of her peers to acknowledge her by name.

I met an old schoolfriend a few years ago, his name is Andrew Cutting. At school most of the lads were nicknamed after their surnames... he was, I wasn't - guess I was lucky. When I bumped into him I slipped into the old routine and it clearly hurt him. "It's Andy, Nick... you wouldn't like it if I called you Payne". I apologised and we chatted for a brief while. I've made a mental note not to refer to anyone from my past using past contexts, unless they are OK with this.

Similarly in my hometown, you can tell the people who I know and am known by... and those who know me primarily by association with my parents. Those who know my name call me Nicholas... those who know me, call me Nick.

The key thing about names is that they define how we identify with one another, ourselves and ultimately... God. In the Bible, God gave mankind the authority to name the animals. If I point to a horse, and say there is a horse... it gives no impression of personal value. If I point to him and say "There's Binky" and he responds, you know that there is some form of basic relationship. It's the same with human beings. In the West, we find it acceptable to walk into a room and give a generic greeting. Apparently (so I've been told), in Ecuador it is extremely rude to do this, it is customary to greet everyone in the room as an individual. I think they have the right idea.

We call one another by terms of endearment, nicknames I myself have been known as "Lunar", "Lunarboy", "Pyjama-Man" and "Natrel Man". We can choose to change our name by law, if we are unhappy with it... or if our known identity becomes a danger to our existence. Women can choose to surrender their surname, in order to become associated more closely with a man in marriage. We choose names that has special meaning, significance or affection for our children. Well... OK in my case I didn't have a name for two weeks because Mum and Dad couldn't decide and in the end I was named after the local church (an embarrassing tale for another time I think).

God also changes names... at times when people have a moment in their life that changes the way they relate to him. Abram was changed to Abraham, Sarai became Sarah and as I mentioned in another previous blog, Jacob became Israel.

God himself reveals different names attributed to himself, through the Bible. In fact a key theme in the Bible is how the same God is known by a different name when he reveals a new aspect of his character to his people that marks a new point in his relationship with them.

I'm going to leave you with a meditative challenge and a selection of the Biblical names of God that I found at Lambert Dolphin's website, which also has a more in depth examination of those names.

For the meditative challenge, I want to go back to the horse/Binky scenario. I want you to imagine you are in a sunlit field, looking up to the top of a gentle hill with a friend. I'd like you to try and picture "God" (or if you are an atheist, the person with whom you most closely associate that word) appearing over the hill. When you point to God, how will you describe him to your friend? Is he just the term "God", or is he something more personal than that? If you struggle, maybe the name you seek is in the following list. Whichever name stands out the most for you at this time in your life, I'd like you to go and meditate/think about it. Perhaps if you feel brave enough you could share the name that came to you, or maybe even what came as you meditated on that name. Here is the list:
  • El - God
  • Elohim - God, pluralised noun(as in the Trinity).
  • El Shaddai - God Almighty
  • Adonai - Lord
  • Jehovah - LORD
  • Jehovah-Jireh - The Lord Will Provide
  • Jehovah-Rophe - The Lord Who Heals
  • Jehovah-M'Kaddesh - The Lord Who Sanctifies
  • Jehovah-Shalom - The Lord Our Peace
  • Jehovah-Tsidkenu - The Lord Our Righteousness
  • Jehovah-Rohi The Lord Our Shepherd
  • Jehoivah-Shammah - The Lord Is There
  • El Elyon - God Most High
  • Tsemach - The Branch
  • El Roi - God of Seeing
  • Palet - Deliverer
  • Gaol - Redeemer
  • Magen - Shield
  • El-Olam - Everlasting One
  • Zur - God Our Rock
  • Melekh - King
  • Father
  • Son
  • Holy Spirit
  • The Trinity
  • The Word
  • Alpha and Omega - The First and the Last
  • Y'Shua
  • Jesus
  • Christ
  • Messiah
  • The Lamb of God
  • Saviour
  • The Innermost Friend
  • Comforter
  • My All In All

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts.


  1. Anonymous5:24 am


  2. Jehovah Shammah - The Lord is there.
    This means something because in the midst of the cr*p I'm going through at the moment, I've realised that He is indeed there and will be with me as I walk through the fire.

  3. Anonymous2:01 am

    Nick, thanks so much for the comment on mine, and for continuing to post on yours! I'm slowly making the migration as well. We'll see how I do.
    Blessings, and Shalom,


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