What’s in a Name?

thistle

The thistles here are a commentary to me on that wonderful title of 1 Timothy 1:11 – “The Blissful God.”  It is as if now that not a flower is left on the barren ground, His gladness and His beauty must pour itself out on something still, so He takes the thistles and glorifies them.   29 September 1904

“What’s in a name?”  This question is raised in one of the most famous quotes of Shakespeare from the play Romeo and Juliet:  “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Juliet, of course, is resisting the very thing that legislated against the star-crossed love of young Romeo and Juliet – a name! Their love is doomed from the start as members of two warring families, Montague and Capulet.  “Tis but thy name that is my enemy. . .”

What’s in a name?  Well, as it turns out, in life as in fiction, a great deal is in a name.  A name can divide families and countries.  A name can define, honor and extol a virtue or a person who embodies certain characteristics worthy of emulation.

This week I received a notification of yet another baby to join the list of girls named after Lilias Trotter.  Listing the newborn baby’s statistics – name, date, weight and length – the grateful parents added:  “Named after Lilias Trotter, a pioneering missionary to North Africa who has long been a personal heroine of Anna’s (mother), we pray that our Lilias will follow hard after her loving Father and bring blessing to those around her.”

Several organizations have, likewise, claimed the name of Lilias as the embodiment of certain ideals and purposes.  The new Fletcher Center at the international headquarters of Pioneers, a world-wide mission agency, has named their large conference room Trotter Center after Lilias Trotter who, through a “marriage” with Arab World Ministries, is now part of the history of this larger mission family,  How apt to name after her this  space allocated to preparation for new long and short-term missionaries, refreshment for workers on home assignment, training cross-cultural workers in church planting, security and language learning – to mention a few of its purposes all close to Lilias’s heart.

The Lilias Trotter Center, in New York, claims Lilias as “our inspiration” writing. “Her art and writings demonstrate her commitment to the beauty and truth of God’s Word and God’s world.  Her lifestyle of a deep spirituality combined with theological acuity is the model we hope to emulate in all that we do and teach.”  (www.liliastrottercenter.org)

What’s in a name?  Lilias, in spite of her reluctance to make “official” their work, was forced by practicalities of growth, both in numbers and finances, to acknowledge the need for a more formal system of organization.  In 1907, almost 20 years after arriving in North Africa, they organized under the name Algiers Mission Band.

I doubt she would have dreamed that her name would outlast the mission’s title and become iconic a century later for what she represented to the parents of a newborn baby or the birthing of a world-wide program “enabling thoughtful Christian engagement with Muslims.”  (I am certain that she, who prayed for and trained young people for ministry, would be honored to have these training centers devoted to carrying on the work so dear to her heart!)

What’s in a name?  Why is it important?  In a naming of a child I suppose it can represent the hopes and dreams for this tiny bundle of potentiality.  Something – someone – to look up to. . .  an image, by definition or example, of certain qualities of character worth emulating.  So with an organization resonate with certain ideals.

Scripture would indicate that God saw the possibilities in a name:  in the very act of naming the first people on earth then assigning them the naming of all living creatures. He was active in re-naming individuals to indicate a mission or an advance, of sorts, in the purpose and/or direction of their lives.  Think how God changed Abram’s name, meaning “high father,” to Abraham, “father of a multitude.”  Then, again God interfered with the naming process after Abraham and Sarah laughed at the really laughable thought of Sarah bearing a child at the age of ninety.  God not only confronts Sarah’s denial of laughing but goes on to instruct them to name that child “Isaac,” which in Hebrew means, yes, laughter!  God appeared to Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, blessing him and saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer.  From now on your name will be Israel.”  (Genesis 35:9-10)

Skip forward many generations to Jesus and His naming of people.  Take Peter:  When Jesus set eyes on him He said, “So you are Simon, the son of John” (John 1:42) and from that time on he called him Cephas, which is Aramaic for Peter, which is Greek for rock.  And a rock he did become but not before betraying that same Jesus and seeming to fall apart, very un-rock-like at the least provocation.   While it is not clear when or even why the Apostle Paul’s name was changed from Saul to Paul, this new name was certainly a clean break from his identity as persecutor to apostle – the name by which he will forever be remembered.

Names matter.  But probably no more than in the many names in Scripture given the God-head.  As many as seven-hundred – maybe more – have been identified.  Look at a few:  Comforter. . . Emmanuel . . .  Good Shepherd. . .  Jehovah. . .  Redeemer. . .  Savior. . . Rose of Sharon . . .  Bread of Life. . .  Truth. . .  Wonderful Counselor. . .  Morning Star. . . Light of the World. . .  Sun of Righteousness. . .  Teacher. . .  Truth . . .  Refuge. . .  Jesus. . .  Messiah. . .   Say them aloud.  Think deeply of the implications of each and every name.  Let them pour over your very being like fresh spring water.

All the names combined can not contain or express the fulness of the character nor the work of God.  Yet each name speaks directly to the needs and longings of the human heart – some at certain times more than others.  He is all the above and more – sufficient for all that we may encounter in life.

What’s in a name?  When isolated or lonely, “Emmanuel,” God With Us, speaks to the void within me.  The “Comforter” soothes my sadness.  He is my “Counselor” when in need of direction. . .  my “Refuge” when fearful. . .  my “Strong Tower” when weak or  vulnerable. . . .  my “Teacher” satisfying  longings after Truth. . .   He is “Jesus,” my friend who walks the pilgrim way alongside me having walked it Himself before me.  As for the alienation between myself and God, He is the The “Savior-Redeemer” now and for all Eternity.  He is all the above and more, sufficient for everything that I – that all humankind – might encounter in life.

Frederick Buechner, in Peculiar Treasure: A Biblical Who’s Who,  under “J” wrote about Jesus. He listed many of His great works on earth but concluded with the time He lay sleeping in the stern of the boat, pillow under His head, seemingly oblivious to the raging winds, waves washing into the boat, his anxious disciples waking Him.  “The way, when they woke Him, He opened His eyes to the howling storm and to all the other howling things that He must have known were in the cards for Him and that his nap had been a few moments of vacation from. ” Buechner goes on to say,  “Lamb of God, Rose of Sharon, Prince of Peace – none of the things people have found to call him has ever managed to say it quite right.  You can see why when he told people to follow him they often did, even if they backed out later when they started to catch on to what lay ahead.  If you’re religiously inclined, you can see why they went even so far as to call him Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, the Son of God, and call him these things still, some of them.  And even if you’re not religiously inclined, you can see why it is you might give your immortal soul if you thought you had one to give, to have been the one to raise that head a little from the hard deck and slip a pillow under it.”

What’s in a name?  Everything:  even life itself.

“We rest in Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”

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7 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Bobb Biehl says:

    Miriam,

    Well done!

    BobbBiehl.com 7830 East Camelback Road Suite # 711 Scottsdale, AZ 85251

    >

  2. Hannah Hulen says:

    Dear Miriam,

    In the spirit of Lilias, is there anything we in this blog community can do to minister to the Sufis who suffered in the recent attack? I cannot help but think that this is a door that has been opened…
    Please let me know your thoughts on this as it has been heavy on my heart and I can only think of it in terms of what would Lilias do right now, as the Sufis held such a dear spot in her heart.

    With sincere regards,

    Hannah

    • mhrockness says:

      Hannah, What a wonderful query! I have contacted our “source” who has spent an adult lifetime ministering to the Arab Muslims and likewise has a special place in her heart for the Sufis. Yes, indeed, Lilias loved the “Sons of Sunshine” as she called them and it would do her no greater credit than to continue in that spirit today.
      This is, in fact, a deep desire of those of us who have joined together to make Lilias’s life and legacy better known. I will get back to you when I hear from our sources. Peace and joy during this Advent Season. Miriam Rockness

  3. I named my daughter Lillia—now 14 years-old—long before I learned of Lilias Trotter. Imagine my delight that my daughter shares such a similar name with this wonderful artist (and that she is also a budding artist, herself)! For Christmas I am giving my daughter your book, “A Passion for the Impossible,” as well as “A Way of Seeing,” and a DVD of “Many Beautiful Things.” Lilias is a fantastic role model, and a truly inspiring artist, and we are all indebted to you for helping to bring her legacy into the light.

    • mhrockness says:

      Thank you for your wonderful communication about your daughter Lillia – which is quite close enough to connect with our Lilias! What a delightful way to bring the legacy of Lilias to your daughter through the works and life of Lilias Trotter. Best blessings on you and your daughter on your journeys of faith. All best as Lillia develops her gift of art and determines how she uses it for God’s purposes in her life. Miriam

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