On Faith: What's in a name?

March 19, 2011|By Thomas L. Thorkelson

A name is the means by which we are identified. In the olden days, many times the name took the form of one's origin or occupation: Joseph the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, Joan of Arc.

In Scandinavian genealogy, we run across patronymics. A son or daughter uses the father's first name and attaches "son" or "dotter" to it.

One's name can also be identified by a characteristic: Eric the Great. Richard the Lionhearted, John the Beloved.

Sometimes, our only identification is a significant event in our lives: The thief on the cross. Then, others are known primarily for their associations: the Queen's escort, the Brother of Moses (Aaron).


Native Americans would sometimes name their children according to what they wanted them to be: "One Who is Fast as the Wind," or later demonstrated characteristics such as "Dances With Wolves."

Sometimes an entire group will assume a common name. "Singh" is a last name for those practicing the Sikh faith.

When followers of Jesus partake of the Communion, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Christ and are known as "Christians."

The scriptures comment on the importance of a name, like in Proverbs 22:1: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches," and in Ecclesiastes 7:1 we read that "a good name is better than precious ointment."

Some people are burdened with a name associated with infamy and rise above it, and others have a revered name and desecrate it by engaging in activities inconsistent with their heritage.

Often a name conjures up an image contrary to tradition. When I informed a Catholic priest that my new bride's name was Sheila O'Leary, he responded with a twinkle in his eye.

"Well, now," he said. "What's an O'Leary doin' bein' a Mormon? She should be a good Catholic."

When the scriptures talk about a "good name," they refer to the name we make for ourselves — we often refer to it as our "reputation." We can be known for good or evil — sometimes both — if what we do engenders strong feelings. Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln and Adolph Hitler are examples.

I am convinced that we make our "good names" by being true to our word, by honoring our commitments, by being honest, dependable and reliable. Each of us should be aware of how many "little" things affect the idea people have of us.

When I interviewed my children as they were growing up, one of the subjects we discussed was how the selection of their friends can have an impact on their progress.

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