Reflections from the Pulpit: What’s in a name?

Posted 3/17/23

Recently, a young girl suddenly started calling herself by a different name. Out of nowhere, she changed identity...

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Reflections from the Pulpit: What’s in a name?


Recently, a young girl suddenly started calling herself by a different name. Out of nowhere, she changed identity – and began calling herself a random name. This created a question: Should the spiritual leaders in her life just play along? Or should they ask her what was going on, and try to get to the root of the issue? Her main spiritual leader decided to play along and refused to inquire further. “After all, she has the right to her desired name and pronouns.”

The situation struck me as fascinating. First, that a spiritual leader would not care about the associative issues of sudden name and identity changes. Such things are almost always rooted in deeper struggles – trauma, abuse, anxiety, and family systems. How can a true counselor be unconcerned about underlying issues? And second, that a spiritual leader would not value the divine revelation of name and identity.

Behind the discussion of self-naming lies a greater question: What is the ground of human being? Are we the ground of our own being or is our real being ultimately found in greater Being? If there is a Being beyond us who grounds our being, it is this Being who rightfully gives identity, destiny, and purpose. Our world has it all backwards. Health and enduring destiny lie not in self-expression and self-naming, but in confessing our distorted views, and surrendering to greater Being – living into our conferred identity and name.

In Scripture, names reveal essence and relation. For instance, to understand God’s name is to know Him. Not as some “divine name” cults make it, as if saying the right letters and syllables is a magic talisman! Rather, knowing God’s Name is connecting His name to Being and Being to personal life. As Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). “Those who know your name put their trust in you, O LORD” (Ps. 9:10). God says that those who hold fast to Him in holy love will be delivered by Him, for they know (saving relation) His Name (Ps. 91:14). This is the first category of prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: “Holy is your Name.” Those who truly know the Name of God know that He is holy. He is of purer eyes than to countenance evil or bless sin. To attach His name to sin-identity is to declare that He is not truly known.

Also in scripture, names are conferred – the greater names the lesser, and this reveals destiny and divine blessing. Family names carry great meaning. And God often raises a name to its transcendent form or gives a spiritual name. For instance, God took Abram, which means “exalted father,” and renamed him Abraham, which means “father of many,” showing his destiny as the Father of Many Nations, descendants more than the stars in the middle eastern sky or sand on the seashore. Likewise, God takes Sarai, meaning “My princess,” and renames her Sarah, which means “Princess,” showing her destiny not merely in local honor, but in forever status of Princess heritage, Mother of Nations. Christ renames Saul to Paul, and Simon to Peter. And Christ promises His name to all who overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil: Our own transcendent, spiritual name and fulfilled destiny (cf. Rev. 2:17).

This world is not a friend of grace, friends. We are indoctrinated daily to define God and self by desire. All sin at its core is an attempt to rename God and the self along lines of fallen self-desire, to remake reality in line with self-idolatry. And saving faith is the opposite – the holy turn from the fallen self, back to God, in the atonement that He provides: the reception of a united heart, by grace, through faith. Our life (Zoe life – essence of real life, true name) is “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). This is the path of healing, divine wholeness.

What’s in a name? Eventually, everything. At the end of the day, every one of us will either possess a name given to us, through faith and surrender to God, or we will have a name that we give ourselves, in loss of greater life. What’s in a name? Eventually, everything. Infinite blessing or unimaginable loss. Amen.

name, God, loy mershimer