What’s in a name?

When choosing a name for our daughter, we wanted something pleasing to the ear, a clearly feminine yet strong name, something with a meaning that was “big enough” and “good”, a name with some family heritage was preferred, but, most importantly, it would have to have the ability to grow as she grew … We chose the name Kathryn.

There are studies about names and how certain names conjure certain personality types. It’s unclear how much the name we give our children shape who they are. But, names do have a huge influence. There was a time when our daughter was just Katie, then Katiebailey as if it were one name (to distinguish her from the other Katie’s around); in middle school her friends called her Kbit (another story), her teachers called her Kathryn, and, now, she introduces herself as Kate. This past summer she married … and her name changed again … Now it feels weird the ask Siri to call Kate Farmer instead of KatieBailey.

We have already run across a few name changes in our reading of The Story … Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Jacob became Israel. Each name says something about their transformation, their life … Who they are and who they belong to.

A few years ago (2006) the General Assembly of the PCUSA received a study on the Trinity which was highly controversial. It was controversial, in part, because of the names it suggested to refer to God, the three in one … All of the names and images were Biblically based. On the way out of the assembly hall just after the vote, I overheard an elder say that we could NOT use any name for God other than the one God chose for himself … referring to the traditional trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What?!?

First, names are generally NOT things we choose for ourselves … Most of us have been named by our parents, our nicknames have come to us through a person or group of people. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit were not names God chose, but names the Church gave to God. Secondly, and more apropos to our reading this week … when Moses specifically asks God his name, God resists being labeled … I am who I am, or I am as I will be. He describes himself … I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob … God identifies himself as one of us, but refuses to be limited, defined by the distinction.

Yet, Moses pushes back … How am I going to go to the people of Israel or Pharaoh and say some God said release the slaves? I need a name … I need some way to say which god you are … who you are … We need clarification here.  I can imagine Moses saying to himself: he better have a strong sounding name, a warrior name, a no nonsense name. But God, gives no such name. God’s name lies outside of connotation, or strength, or expectation or definition. God’s name IS. That’s all. And my mind goes right back to chapter one: Let there BE, and there WAS. Moses keeps pushing, and God gives him a name … I AM. Tell them I AM sent you.

The I AM encompasses I WAS and I WILL BE. Can you hear the Gloria Patri ringing now, “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be …”. Both stable and dynamic … always more than we imagine. It’s our smallness that wants to “get a handle” on God. But God is always outside our boxes, our names, and our understanding … Always one of us, one with us, one beyond us.

What names do you often use for God? What other images for God do you like?

Why do you think God resists being named? How do names empower us or limit us?

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