Names have been in existence as long as humanity. God created a timeless tradition when He gave Adam the first name, meaning “formed of the earth.” In the same manner, humans have been assigning names since the beginning of recorded time.
Why names? Part of the answer is found in Genesis 1:27. “So God created human beings in His image. In the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Because we are unique and unparalleled creations, God wanted us to have individualized names signifying our identity. Names form an integral part of who we are, bestowing a way of distinguishing us from others. God confirms the idea of our individuality in Isaiah 43:1 by saying, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” By this we know that the names we bear have meaning to the Lord.
Jewish culture has honored names since biblical times, when names were selected solely based on their Hebrew meaning. A few of the countless Old Testament examples are Abraham (father of the nation), Moses (drawn from the water), Ruth (companion), Kama (ripe harvest), Nehemiah (God comforts) and Shamir (precious stone). When people spoke a name in ancient Hebrew culture, they understood they were declaring the words meaning over that individual, not merely saying their name.
The value that God places on a name is evident in that each time a significant event occurred in a person’s life, they underwent a name change. Think about Abram (high father) becoming Abraham (father of a multitude) in Genesis 17:5, Jacob’s supplanter becoming Israel (having power with God) in Genesis 32:28 and Simon (God has heard) being changed to Peter, meaning rock (John 1:42). These name changes signified their receipt of a new identity. Although the bible does not say why God changed their name, it is reasonable to deduce the name change suggested they were destined for a new mission in life. The new name was a way to let them in on the divine plan and assure them that God’s plan would be fulfilled in them.
In latter ancient history, the use of surnames is observed. These second names were usually given to show a person’s identification within a certain family or clan, (Gaius Julius Caesar) or who their father was (Simon bar-Jonah, meaning, son of Jonah). These additional names were not commonplace in Western civilization until around 1100 A.D. when only nobility took them. But by 1465, King Edward V of England delivered an edict that surnames be adopted universally for identification purposes. He ordered that the name taken reflect the individual’s identity, representing either a town, color, art or office. This saw the advent of last names such as Baker, Smith, Miller and others. Over time, the way surnames were selected broadened to denote a person’s hair color (Joseph White or Elizabeth Brown) or adding the suffix “son” to the father’s name (Johnson) or a prefix also meaning son, such as MacDonald or Fitzgerald.
Male Jewish names in Eastern Europe fell into two categories, the first their “shemot ha-kodesh”, sacred name and second being “kinuyim” their secular name. Sacred names were given to boys on the day of their circumcision and were used when, as men, they were called upon to read the Torah in a synagogue. The same names appear in tombstone inscriptions.
The second and larger category in Hebrew, a person’s secular name they are regularly called, derived from languages other than Hebrew and Aramaic, and include numerous pet forms. Both shemot ha-kodesh and kinuyim must appear on Jewish divorce documents.
The Church also had unparalleled influence over the choice of names in medieval times, in that only children named after saints and martyrs could be baptized in the twelfth century. This was an attempt to stop the practice of naming children after pagan gods and entities. It was rather effective since most people at that time believed baptism to be central to salvation. The great majority of women at that time were named Mary, Ann, Elizabeth or Catherine with men named John, George, James or William.
Fast forward to the 21st century where names seem to have lost value. Popular culture has seemingly influenced the naming of children (think Bella from Twilight, Cooper, Jagger or Molly after rock bands) removing any deeper meaning from a moniker. While celebrities are expected to select flaky, ah, artistic baby names (Bear Blu by Alicia Silverstone, Tennessee Toth by Reese Witherspoon and the funniest: wait for it – North West credited to Kim and Kanya), average joe’s really should consider the long-term effects a name can have on their child’s self-image. Totally insane star baby names
Deeper still, consider how common pagan influence in baby name selection has become today. As if we didn’t need another reminder of how far certain segments of society have wandered from Christianity.
I am certainly not suggesting that parents revert to 1920’s favorites like Dorothy, Mildred, Frances, Doris, Edna, Hazel, Fred, Stanley, Leonard or Harry. I am, however pleased to see through a cursory peek into popular names for 2014 that traditional names are making a comeback. I noticed this year’s list included Olivia, Emma, Sophia, Isabella, Charlotte, Amelia and Evelyn – traditional names of bygone years.
Aside from permanently damaging your kid’s psyche with the name Fritz or Augustus, like the 132 poor guys afflicted thusly in 1970, kindly consider naming your precious bundle of joy after yourself, a beloved family member or biblical figure. You will be gracing their life with a feeling of connectedness to a family lineage, a legacy and a sense they belong to an entity larger than themselves. My husband is named after both his dad and granddad, honoring his long family lineage. My name, Kathryne, is a constant reminder of my mother and maternal grandmother. It connects me to them in love, simultaneously imparting both history and destiny to my heart and mind, each time I hear my name spoken.
It is so much better than Edna!
Christian inspirational writer of truth that makes darkness tremble. Author of Lion in My Garden devotional.