Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What's In A Name? Well, Lots of Things.

Recently I have given a lot of thought to what it means to name something; in particular, children. Perhaps it's because i know a number of pregnant women at present, or perhaps it's something that I've been thinking about for years is finally done marinating in my brain.
Having a rather unique name myself, I never ran into the problem as a kid finding out that I wasn't the only Tamsen in the world. Now I know that I am not the only Tamsen in existence, but our numbers certainly are few. I sometimes wondered as a child why my parents chose me specifically to be the one with my name, and wondered why they weren't as adventurous with naming the rest of my sisters.
I suppose I didn't really recognize the importance of a name until a few years back. It seems as it would be logical to sat hat everyone has a story behind their name, but more often than not it is only kids with funky names get asked about the origins. I believe that this is where my journey started in my fascination with names--when I moved to college and had to tell my story over and over again.
For my parents, each of my siblings names has a meaning behind it for one reason or another. My sisters-Sarah Jane, Kathryn Ann, and Megan Ingelore, are all partially named after family members. I'm the lone wolf in that sense-I'm named after a historical figure who is in no way a relation.
Mom and Dad named me after Tamsen Donner, a woman who left a legacy of faithfulness and courage. Refusing to leave her husband on his deathbed when an early winter snowed their pioneering party into the Sierra Nevadas, she sent her children on to safety, knowing that she would meet her end that winter, either from cold or starvation. Tamsen would never see them again; she took her marriage vows literally and refused to part from her husband until death. Literally. It was my parent's hope that in naming me after such a strong and loyal woman, that I might have similar characteristics as my namesake. I'm not married quite yet, but I do believe that part of the loyalty and faithfulness I have read about has rubbed off on me; both in hearing the story so many times growing up as well as telling it to others as an adult. When new acquaintances ask for the story behind my name, I am reminded of the hope my parents had for me, and that it becomes more and more a part of me each time it is told.
Looking Biblicly at names, we see that they are extremely important. They show family lineage, tribes, and race, all of which are very important to Jewish tradition and culture at the time. I have heard that when a son was born, his name was not revealed until the day of his circumcision, eight days after birth. This supposedly was done so that the parents could watch and observe their child, to see what type of character they have and to name them something that was fitting.
There are a few times in both the Old and the New Testament where we see God make a few changes in regards to people's names. I particularly like these instances, because it shows us that God changes us to our core, that we are so radically different that we need a new name. We see Abram go to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, and Paul to Saul. This list isn't everyone who gets a name change, but you get the picture. I think what I like most about these instances is that God re-names people after he changes their hearts in big ways. Abram goes from a moon-worshiping pagan to the father of the Nation of Israel. God calls him out into the desert to follow him, and Abram proves faithful, even after being asked to sacrifice his only son, whom God has promised lineage. Abraham's trust in God's provision is astounding! God meets Abram in big ways here--he is given a new identity as one who follows the One True God, and also is given a new name to seal the deal (not to mention descendants outnumbering the stars or anting).
Jacob has been given the name that means deceiver, and he has live up to his namesake for the first few decades o his life. He deceived his father out of giving the correct son the blessing, as well as sneakily gaining his brother's birthright for a bowl of stew. But God continues to pursue him, until one day the tables turn and Jacob decides to pursue God. Jacob literally wrestles with either and angel or God himself before crossing over the Jordan one night. Upon being asked what he is contending for, Jacob demands a blessing from the Lord. His request is granted, and he walks away a changed man, both literally and figuratively. A blessing was given, a new name was chosen for him, and Jacob (now Israel) would be left to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. Changed forever, there was a physical sign of his wrestling with God, as well as a symbolic one.
When people meet God in real ways, he changes things around. He moves around the furniture in our house, he dusts off the cobwebs, and ushers the skeletons out of our closets. When we are wooed out of our sinfulness and into the glorious wonder of his love, we cannot help but to be changed into something else. As we turn our eyes further and further from ourselves and towards the redemption of the Cross, we become new creatures. Much like a caterpillar is no longer the same after it emerges from the cocoon, so is the repentant heart after it is washed by the blood of Christ. We cannot return to inching along as the worm does, but we take on the new identity that the Lord has given us in Jesus and take hold of our new found freedom from sin. When God calls me by name, I cannot help but to answer. And when he calls me Daughter, I know truly that I am his.