That’s the question posed by the latest issue of Shalom!: A Journal for the Practice of Reconciliation.
The issue contains reflections and essays by a number of church leaders. Of particular relevance for this blog is the article “Random Syllables or Sacred Symbols: What’s the Big Deal about a Name?” and the point-counterpoint article by Tim Day and Pauline Hogan on a Brethren in Christ Church denominational name change.
Here’s a salient excerpt from Brensinger’s piece, to whet your appetite for the issue as a whole:
In a day and age full of name-choosing, name-calling, and name-changing, it seems crucial that people of faith recognize that the importance of names is deeply rooted, not simply in social norms, but in the biblical story itself. For one thing, names in the Bible are sacred symbols that typically carry significant meaning. They are not randomly selected, nor are they chosen simply on the basis of sensual appeal. Again and again, biblical characters bear names that tell us something about them, their faith and even their calling: Elijah (“the Lord is my God”), David (“Beloved”), Nehemiah (“Comforter”), Isaiah (“Yahweh is Salvation”), Joel (“Yahweh is God”) and Elisabeth (“God is Generous”) are cases in point. Collectively, the Nazarites (“consecrated ones”) observed particularly demanding laws and the Chris- tians followed the one they deemed to be the Messiah (the “Christ”).
In the same way, God’s various names in the Bible paint a verbal picture of all that God is and does—his personality, purposes and deeds. God is the most high (El Elyon), God is mighty (El Shaddai), God provides (Yahweh Jireh), God sees or watches over (El Roi), and God heals (Yahweh Raphe), to site just a few examples. Indeed, the name “Jesus” (Yeshua) tells us a great deal about God—“Yahweh saves.” In these and many other instances, names provide windows through which we readers learn much about God and the people who dot the pages of Scripture. . . .
Names, once again, matter. In fact, they are of such importance that the names we choose and the meaning we infuse into them matter deeply even to God. As a sage in ancient Israel once commented, “A good name is more desirable than great riches (Prov. 22:1).” Surely the same holds true today.
You can read and download the whole issue here.