Thursday, March 29, 2012
WHAT’S IN A NAME? A GREAT DEAL: DUDE, JAP, GAY, MARINE, MS., MISS, MRS. TEX, AMI, SIR, BENEDICT
The first time I was aware of the significance of a name change was when I was a student in the chaplain’s office in a prison. A lot of blacks there were changing from their “slave” name to a Muslim one. It mattered.
On Sunday morning at church, when one of our Korean-American members is introduced it may be as “Betty” or “Nancy,” a not insignificant dynamic has gone on – or hasn’t. So it is with many other persons.
A friend died this week, age 96. The name was Anglo-Saxon, but no. A stage name. When he broke into show business you couldn’t - not if you had that kind of tongue twister - to most, but all, Americans.
It was one of the earliest family stories I heard from my wife, Annelie. She was born in a war; her father was a German naval officer. He gave her a traditional Swiss name; the German birth registrar changed it to “Anneliese.” Back it went to Annelie when peace settled the issue.
We see that significance of naming in the Bible, too. When “Abram” became “Abraham” a self identity has shifted – for good. For Ruth’s mother-in-law, in that Bible story, the name change signified perpetual grieving.
The issue came up again for me as I was going through a couple of scholarly works on the Apostle. As I had noted in other Pauline studies, the name of “Saul” comes up when his early life is being described, but after the Damascus experience the name “Paul” is often used in an indiscriminate fashion. Curious.
In Luke’s account – and he knew Paul well – the name change took place on Cyprus. The process of an evolved self identity is important. The man who had been Saul and then was named “little Christs,” (Christians), became Paul in peculiar circumstances on Cyprus, and later claimed a conferred new identity we call “Apostle.” There would have been shifts in his Jewish relatedness as his self identity shifted, the grounding of his theology altered as his perceptions evolved.
I gave a good deal of thought to that name change of Saul into Paul when we wrote our book. Perhaps we all ought to give some thought to how our self identifiers were stamped in on us, ought to change. Just who am I? And used to be until…? That is particularly significant if you have suffered an identity fracturing trauma, like “victim,” “loser.” Or worse still, labeled "abuser.
If we are going to wear a name tag, it may take some doing, but like Paul let’s chose it wisely and wear it well.