It turns out, Julie means youthful and Anne means graceful. I also snuck a peak to see about my middle name, Elaine, which means, light.
When I got home that day, I asked my parents where my name came from. Oddly enough, they started with my middle name, saying that my paternal grandfather’s sister was named Elaine, and she died from a heart condition at the age five. A good, solid family name. That was going to fit in really well with my assignment. So then I asked about my first name, Julianne. Did they know what it meant? Is that why they chose it? Or was it another family name, maybe from my mom’s side? Nope. None of those things. It turns out, my mom’s favorite show was Cheers, and Shelley Long had a baby girl who she named Julianna right before I was born. So, that was the inspiration behind my name, Julianne. Not quite as touching as I’d hoped, but fun nonetheless.
That small homework assignment showed me that names have meaning and significance. And since then, I’ve paid closer attention to them. Rarely are our names random. There’s usually intent and thought behind them. And as we operate in the world, our names are usually one of the very first things people learn about us. Our names are important identifiers that carry weight and meaning. And as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve also noticed the ways in which names are used in Scripture. A name is given to a person or a place for a reason - to commemorate an event that took place or even to describe the circumstances surrounding a person’s birth or existence. And in some sense, a name is often meant to be a reflection of a person’s very being, a person’s character.
And so, in paying attention to the names found in Scripture, I’ve noticed a few things worth remembering.
First, there are many, many names for God. Now, I’m no expert and won’t cover all of them right now, but here are a few of those names:
Yahweh, perhaps reflecting the very breath and being of God.
I AM, as God declares to Moses through the burning bush, initiating a relationship with him.
El Roi, meaning the God who sees, which we touched on in Episode 6.
Elohim, meaning Creator.
Adonai, reflecting God’s sovereignty.
Again, these are only a handful.
When we talk of Jesus, we might use Prince of Peace. Messiah. The Good Shepherd. Emmanuel, God With Us. Savior. Friend.
And sometimes, the names we use for God are more personal. Jehovah reflects the relational side of God, and there are multiple versions of Jehovah, some which translate into names like Healer. Comforter. Provider. Defender. Redeemer. Sustainer.
Each name is a reflection of God’s character and who God is to us. And I love that the fullness of God cannot be captured in one individual name. Remembering the many names for God reminds us of God’s grandeur and glory while also reminding us that God can and does meet us right where we are, in relationship. These names of God express God’s active presence in our lives.
Second, believe it or not, OUR names matter to God, too. They have significance. In fact, we even see God change several people’s names in Scripture. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah after God promises that Abraham will be the father of many nations. Jacob becomes Israel after wrestling with God in the desert. Simon becomes Peter when Jesus proclaims he will have a significant role in building Jesus’ church. And a man in Acts named Joseph sells his personal land and uses the money to benefit the Christian community he was a part of. Because of this, he then becomes known as Barnabas, the encourager. Each person received their changed name either after an encounter with the living God, or after living into the call and purpose God had for their life. It was a name that better reflected the person God called them to be. There is purpose behind our names. And I wonder, aside from the names we were given at birth, what names God might be calling us to live into more fully?
Daughter. Peacemaker. Sister. Servant. Mother. Truth-teller. Wife. Listener. Friend. Neighbor. Advocate. And perhaps most importantly, Child of God.
And finally, we remember that God remembers and calls each of us by name. Not in a scolding way, or in a flippant, “roll call” way. But in a personal, relational way.
At the end of December 2018, my nephew Colson was born. As of April 2020, I, along with help from my sister and brother-in-law, successfully taught him how to say my name. Or at least the condensed version: JuJu. It’s the nickname given to me by my younger cousins years and years ago. It stuck, and now it’s the perfect name for our toddler nieces and nephews to learn.
We live several hours apart, but I’ve been reciting, “JuJu” to him since he was literally in the womb, and then since his birth, mostly through FaceTime and recorded videos. And of course, super intense lessons when we do get to spend actual time together. Back in April, my sister sent me a video of Colson finally saying my name, and it absolutely melted my heart. Not because my effort had finally paid off, but because it proved that he knew me by name. It was proof of a connection.
There is something deeply meaningful that happens when a loved one looks us in the eye and calls us by name. It’s a recognition of our humanity, our identity, our individuality. And it’s a reflection of personal knowledge and connection.
There is a passage in the book of Isaiah, where God talks of restoring and protecting Israel. Isaiah 43:1-3 reads,
But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel;
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
In this passage, and in all of the different ways names are used in Scripture - for God and for us - we are reminded of our relationship with God - that we are called by name, that God never forgets our name, and that we are invited to call God by name too.
But most importantly, it’s a reminder that we belong. That we aren’t abandoned or orphaned in the middle of it all. We have a name to live up to. We have a family name to fall back on. As a result of God’s grace, our identity is first and foremost a named child of God.
Today, if you feel forgotten or anonymous, remember, you are called by name. You belong to God. May we rest in the surety of our belonging and do our best to live into the names God calls us to.