What’s in a Name?

Every child knows what it feels like to be called some terrible nickname on the playground in elementary school. This is just what children do to hurt one another. Maybe you quoted that famous childhood statement, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” You probably knew when you were making that statement it was absolutely false. Words can hurt deeply. A mean nickname will cause a child to come home crying from school today.

Most of the time those nicknames only last for a few days and then they go away. However, some nicknames stick with you for a long time. Maybe you made a really big mistake. Perhaps that mistake was very public. Eventually, that mistake became a nickname you’ve never been able to live down. Some people will carry those nicknames into adulthood. Proverbs 22:1 says a good name is more valuable than great riches. Do you remember Shakespeare’s famous quote from Romeo and Juliet about the value of a name? Well, Juliet was only partially right… some names are important.

Childhood nickname becomes a lifelong moniker

There are some names you had no influence over. You didn’t choose your birth family. That means you had no influence over your family name. Others inherited a nickname they can’t escape. Maybe your parents gave you a childhood name that’s become a family tradition. Some names only last for a short period of time; others will remain with you for life. It can become a terrible burden when your childhood nickname becomes a lifelong moniker.

What happens when you messed up in the past and now you have a nickname you cannot escape? What happens when everybody associates your name with a terrible mistake you’ve made in the past? Sometimes your failures and mistakes in your past are so severe your name becomes synonymous with it. I’m thinking of the name Monica Lewinsky. Almost everyone who recognizes that name recognizes her because of a mistake she made in her past. There’s no escaping the mistake associated with Monica Lewinsky’s name. The name Charles Manson is another example. Although his crimes were committed decades ago, his name is still synonymous with mass murder.

When an action becomes a reputation

Most childhood nicknames are probably undeserved. Some nicknames, however, are well deserved. This happens when someone’s actions are repeated often enough that everyone associates him or her with it. It may be the superstar on the women’s basketball team who can shoot free throws so well that she becomes known as “Miss Dependable.” Or maybe it’s the middle school boy whose aptitude for science is so great that he develops the nickname “Einstein.” There are a lot of positive examples when your actions become so regular you develop a good reputation for them. This can be true when you have a bad reputation as well.

There is a lady like this in the Bible by the name of Rahab. Not many parents name their daughters Rahab because her name is almost always associated with her profession (Joshua 6:22). In almost every occurrence in the Bible, Rahab is referred to as a prostitute (Hebrews 11:31). I can’t help but wonder if Rahab’s children or grandchildren heard what she did for a living. I would love to know if Rahab’s grandchildren still heard about her sins and failures many years later.

Changing your name

Have you ever wondered how to shed the shame associated with a lifelong nickname? Have you ever asked the question, “How long will I have to deal with the mistakes that I made in the past?” What you are probably asking is, “How do I legally change my nickname?” The answer lies in a change of ownership. Only the owner of the name has the authority to change the name. When you’ve made mistakes in the past, the only way to escape the reputation and the nickname associated with those mistakes is to go through a radical transformation of ownership. The Bible describes this transfer of ownership as being set free from the law of sin by the law of the Spirit of God (Romans 8:2).

When people surrender their soul to Jesus Christ he takes ownership of them. They no longer belong to sin; now they belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 15:23). I think one of the most beautiful examples of this is what happens to Rahab. Because of this woman’s great faith, she becomes part of the household of God. Because Rahab believed in the God of Israel and was willing to stake her life on it, God spared her and her family from the destruction of the city of Jericho. But more than that, God changed this woman’s heart and her reputation. Matthew 1:5 is the only time Rahab is not called a prostitute in the Bible. The fact that her name is no longer associated with her past mistakes is a great indicator of what Jesus did for this woman when he rescued her from destruction and transformed her soul. But the context of this verse in Matthew is even more impressive when you consider God used her to become the great-grandmother of King David. Rahab’s name is a vivid example of the goodness and the grace of God. Jesus, the son of God, was a direct descendant of Rahab, “the prostitute”!

Further reading

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