restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


What’s In A Name?

 David Alan Black 

Well, plenty. Just ask Cardinal Ratzinger – er, Pope Benedict XVI. Or Azanou (“Sorrow”), now Bereket (“Blessing”).

A pastor friend of mine knew of a couple who wanted to have four sons. They planned on naming them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, after the four Gospels. Well, their first child came along and, sure enough, it was a boy. Then the Lord overruled. Their four children were called Matthew, Marcia, Lucille, and Joanna.

In the Gospels, Jesus (“Savior”) gave Simon a new name because it was a Jewish custom to rename a person who had experienced a life-changing event. We all recall the renaming of Abram (Gen. 17) and of Saul (Acts 9). Saul, of course, means “Asked of God,” a fitting moniker for a man of the tribe of Benjamin. Many believe that Saul took the name “Paul” from his first Gentile convert (Sergius Paulus). More likely, Saul had been given the name Paul as a Latin cognomen at birth, as was the custom among Diaspora Jews. Paul means “little” or “insignificant” (as in our “paltry”), and the apostle to the Gentiles bore the name fittingly as he traveled throughout the Roman Empire. Tradition says that Paul was short, bald, and bow-legged, but I wonder if Mr. Paltry doesn’t better describe his spiritual stature. Paul himself was eager to admit that he was the “leaster” (so the Greek!) of all the saints (Eph. 3:8) and the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Indeed, Paul knew “how to be abased” (Phil. 4:12), for he had learned to glory in Christ alone.

Have you ever changed your name? Or have you ever had it changed for you? In Korea I am known as Pae Dae Ho (I have no idea what that means), and in Ethiopia I was given the name Dr. Bereket. Philemon is Mr. Love, while his runaway slave Onesimus is Mr. Useful. Procurator Felix (Mr. Happy) was succeeded by Festus (Mr. Heavy or even Fatso), while Philippians was written to The Horselovers (two of whom, Euodia – Miss Pleasant Journey – and Syntyche – Miss Happy-Go-Lucky – were at loggerheads). Simon Peter is Rocky and Thomas Didymus is Two-Faced, while Silvanus is Forest and Timothy is God-Honorer. Abram means “Exalted Father,” but Abraham means “Father of Many” – a commentary on his new role.

Now here’s your assignment. (Remember, I am the professor and so I get to give you assignments). If you were to rename yourself, what would your new name be? Or, if others were to rename you, what name would they choose?

By the way, if you don’t know what your present name is, you probably ought to find out. It might prove enlightening indeed.

April 23, 2005

David Alan Black is the editor of If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.

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