When I was in the eighth grade, I had a family history project (which I took very seriously), and in the course of researching my particular family history I found out that the Albrights had taken as their motto a line by Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” This name is ironic for several reasons. The most poignant irony, I suppose, is that my family had changed their name from Albrecht to Albright over the course of the 18th century, presumably in order to blend in and assimilate with English-speaking Pennsylvania (where my father’s family is from) so as not to appear to be too German, presumably in light of the bad blood about Prussians in the Revolutionary War. In changing their name, they adapted a familiar Shakespeare quote as a way of acknowledging the change and somewhat honestly admitting it.
I have long found the issues of names to be of interest . Part of this springs from my interest in the meanings of my own names of those of others, meanings which frequently find their way into my blog entries for those who know me and the context of my life. Part of it comes from a lifetime of being teased and given insulting and irritating nicknames that I have greatly disliked. Part of it has also come from my interest in the names of the Bible and the way in which naming has proven to be an important and often neglected area of the Bible. While this post is far too short to exhaustively cover the issue of naming, I would like to bring up three points about names that show their importance in the Bible for reflection.
First, it is noteworthy that the first task given to Adam in the garden of Eden was to name the animals, per Genesis 2:19-20: “Out of the ground the Eternal God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” Here we see that Adam’s task to name animals as part of his dominion over earth included a subtle lesson on what Adam was lacking, namely a partner on his level. Here, in a very subtle and understated way, we see the connection between naming and issues of marriage and family, a common area where names are involved in our lives.
A second thread with names is the fact that naming is related to one’s destiny. While there are many differences between biblical society and our own, the fact that we have such a contemporary focus on issues of identity as well as names and labels and their legitimacy (or lack thereof) suggests an essential continuity between our own present-day culture and that of the Bible. The reason why we reject bad names and nicknames and labels so strenuously is some lingering belief that names confer some sort of destiny. We see several examples of this in scripture. For example, when Abigail tries to save the life of her husband Nabal and her household from David’s wrath at being stiffed for his wages in 1 Samuel 25:25: “Please, let not my lord regard this scoundrel Nabal. For as his name, so is he: Nabal is his name, and folly is with him. But I, your maidservant, did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent.”” Another example comes in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10: “Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because i bore him in pain.” And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.” Here we see two examples of name and destiny, one a case where a man lived down to his bad name, and another where a godly man prayed that God would allow him to escape the curse of his name.
Lest we think that this importance with names is merely a matter of the Old Testament, the book of Revelation is full of references to names being given or dealt with regarding believers at the return of Jesus Christ. See these examples, which are by no means exhaustive:
Revelation 2:17: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My father and before His angels.”
Revelation 3:12: He who overcomes I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.”
This intense interest in names ought not to surprise us. After all, at a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus Christ, a new name was given to the apostle Peter in Matthew 16:18, in a reference that includes the familiar love of puns in Hebrew sayings: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock [namely Jesus Christ, or the understanding of Jesus Christ] I will build My church, and the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it.”
Therefore, let us take heed that we pay close attention to our name and our identity and our reputation and character, lest we find ourselves suffering as Nabal did for his folly. Let us make sure that we honor the name of God and do not deny Him, lest He deny us. Let us make sure that we do not dishonor the name of those who are created in His image, lest we suffer judgment for our contempt. Although we may not recognize the importance that we place on names or the lengthy and noble history of that concern, let our own contemporary concern with identity not only seek to give ourselves a better name and reputation but also to seek the reputation and honor of others as well, even if that is by no means a simple or straightforward task.
 See, for example: