A child’s name will mark him for the rest of his life. It is a collection of unique syllables that identifies her and will set her apart. Therefore, the choosing, or rather bestowing the name requires much thinking and maturity. First, one must be forward-thinking and envision the child’s place in this globalized world. Friends, colleagues and future in-laws will all be using it; and so it must roll off the tongue easily. After all, not all people can do vowels as well as Filipinos. Try making an American say “Ouano” and see the beads of perspiration. Then, once a name has been nominated, a tedious screening process must begin. Second requirement: creativity. Will it be in its basic form, or will a variant be better? I just researched my name and found, to my surprise (and delight) about one hundred variants (i.e. Basque: Elixabete; Elisavet-Greek; Jelisaveta-Serbian). My parents did consider other versions of basic Isabel, and flirted with “Ysabel” or “Isobel”. They loved the exotic sound of it and how it conjured European imagery in spite of my alarmingly flat newborn nose. And then, they came to their senses. They decided they did not want me to spend a large part of my life correcting people (“No, written with a ‘Y’”) or giving enunciation lectures after the handshakes. My parents, bless them, have always had a large dose of the third requirement – selflessness. For them, it was not about what sounded nice, what was en vogue or who was famous. It had to be about the end user. Lastly, one has to think about the cultural considerations.
We Filipinos are still inclined to have names of saints born on or near the day of the child’s birth. The saint then becomes a patron saint of sorts. The Chinese, as a sign of honoring their elders, might ask the grandparents to give the name of the child. They will also be inclined to have the ‘center name’ be their surname or the name shared by many in that family’s generation. The American practice is to have a second name and to use that as the middle initial. Finally, it is time to sound out the entire name and hope that it doesn’t sound wonky. If not, it is back to the naming board.
Our names become so ingrained in our minds and in our psyche. A child is expected to recognize his name as early as 4 months old, and to turn to you in recognition when it is called out. One of the tests of neurological capacity is to ask a patient his name. Our language is peppered with it as well. To be elevated from the rest is to be “named”, but it is the lowest part of the social hierarchy to be labelled as the “nameless” populace. It is a sign of a tighter, more familiar relationship to be given a “nickname” but we can also break ties when we “call them names”. We leave it to the next generation as “a clean name”, but we will rise up in arms to “protect our name.” We guard it so much because it defines our identity and announces our character.
God changed some of his friend’s names, especially when he gave them a new mission. He changed Abram’s (high father) name to “Abraham,” “father of a multitude” and his wife’s name from “Sarai,” (my princess) to “Sarah,” “mother of nations”. The descendants of Abraham and Sarah formed many nations, including the Jewish and Muslim people. God changed Jacob’s “supplanter” name to “Israel,” “having power with God”. He changed Simon’s “God has heard” name to “Peter,” “rock”. Jesus would gently call Peter “Simon” maybe because he would act like his old, weak self instead of the rock God called him to be.
Notice that when God calls us, it is always to an elevated and holier version of ourselves and one that extends the remembrance of our name across generations to come. When he does call out our names, we can be assured that even if the journey will be difficult and tedious, we will emerge different persons. Thus named by Him, our lives cease to belong only to us. It becomes linked to others. It becomes linked to the past and the future. It becomes immortal.
May your name be remembered for generations to come.
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