Monday, December 17, 2007

REWIND: What's in a Name?

My friend Mark sent me an Associated Press story about a young woman named "Mary Christmas." For real.

Name origins and meanings have long intrigued me. It perhaps began in fifth grade, when my teacher created an "All About Me" bulletin board. Each week, a different student would post photos of themselves and lists of their interests. The display also included the student's name origin, which the teacher looked up and posted for us. My classmates' names meant all kinds of wonderful things like "angel," "king," "conqueror," "beautiful one." Of course, I expected my name would be good, too. Imagine my surprise during the first day of "All About Holly" week, when I read my name meant "prickly, poisonous shrub." Guess who got teased all week long? ("Hey, Prickly!" "Stay away from Holly, she's poisonous!")

Still, I'd much rather live down a name than have to live up to one. Case in point: my friend Jessie. Most people don't know her real name is Jesus, and if I were her, I wouldn't tell, either. How on earth do you live up to "our Lord and Savior"? I suppose you can throw people off by using the Spanish pronunciation, Hay-SOOSE (though whenever I hear that name, I always want to say, "God bless you," and hand them a hanky. Culturally insensitive am I.). Then there was the guy at my college named Christian. Ironically, he's an atheist. Naturally, he went by "Chris."

Perhaps my brother, Michael Paul, has the best name combo of all. Michael means "one who resembles God." Whew, what a name to live up to! But the name Paul, which in Latin means "small or little," lightens that burden. My own personal translation of my brother's name: "one who resembles God ... a little."

At times, I'd rather label myself as a "Michael Paul" than as a "Christian." The word Christian, of course, simply means "follower of Christ." Unfortunately, I've heard plenty of other definitions: holier-than-thou, high-and-mighty, too-good-for-this-world-of-sinners. Plenty of Christians try hard to live those things down, but I can understand why those labels persist. It seems we Christians sometimes want to define ourselves as perfect, flawless, even sinless. We're often guilty of dividing the world between Christians and non-Christians, then proclaiming that "non-Christian" means "worthless, rejected, bad." Sometimes Christians forget that they, too, have a sinful nature. Sometimes Christians forget that they make mistakes, that they hurt others. That, even though we've accepted God's gift of forgiveness, we Christians still sin.

We also need to remember that those who aren't Christians are Michael Pauls, just like us. God made them. God loves them as deeply as you and me. They resemble God, and he wants them to know they're his kids, too.

The Christmas family from that AP story says their name keeps them in check. They are constantly reminded they're representatives of the holiday. And that reminds me I'm a representative, too--of Jesus Christ. When I meet someone who defines "Christian" as "holier-than-thou," I've got to remember two things. First, something happened to create those feelings of hurt and rejection. And second, I have an opportunity to extend love and kindness. My actions might give them a reason to reconsider their definition.

To ponder:
When is the word "Christian" a blessing to you? When is it a burden?

2) Think about your recent interactions. How might others be defining "Christian" based on how you represented Christ?

3) For fun, look up your name origin. You can use a search engine by typing your name along with "name meaning," or try


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to wear the name, "Christian." Not that I think I'm some great example of one. But there isn't another to whom I would rather aspire.

Anonymous said...

actually, i rarely even associate my name with "our Lord and Savior". probably becasue i was named after my grandmother. i have always associated it with her.
there are quite a few reasons why i go by Jessie, but associating it with Jesus Christ is not one of them.

Just so you know.

Jesus - aka Jessie