Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Who's in a name?

Homily preached at Eltham College on 3rd and 4th October based on the second chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Church in Philippi verses 5 to 11.

During your summer holiday,
you meet,
staying in the room next to you,
a woman and her three new triplets.

Of course,
you go all gooey over small babies
so you wander over and say hello.

After the appropriate amount of baby-talk,
the mother introduces her brood by name:
the largest LaFayette,
the middle LaToyah
and the youngest LaTrine.


You can’t quite believe your ears,
have you heard that name correctly?

Isn’t that another word for outside toilet?

Being the polite person that you are,
you ask why that particular name.

The reply?

It sounds nice.


How do you feel about your name?

After all, you didn’t choose it for yourself.

It was foisted upon you by your parents.

You may loathe it but,
looking down the school roll,
there isn’t any name that appears
particularly ridiculous.

There are no
Moon Unit Zappas
or Peaches Geldofs,
no Fifi-Trixabelles
or Harper Sevens on the School Roll.

You can always count on the fact
that some parent in the world
is going to inflict
their warped sense of humour
onto the tiny infant
that has just been born to them.

How many boys have received
eleven Christian names
all after the players
for Doncaster Rovers in 1978?

Worse still,
Mr Dover is always going to be tempted
to name his daughter Eileen
– thank about it, Eileen Dover –
or, what about his son Ben?

There’s always the temptation
for Michael Foot to name his daughter Sonya,
and in America,
there is a girl called Deebra Strapp.

Is her son called Jock, one wonders?

If parents can be so rubbish at choosing names should they not hold off until you can choose your own?


Well, this would result in you being called “Thingy” or “Doo-dah” or “Wosname” for the first eleven years of your life.

If you are younger than eleven
and you choose your own name,
the result could be just as silly:
Ben 10 Smith,
Pikachu Palmer-Patten
or Kinder Surprise Jones,
for example.

However, if you don’t have a name
until you’re eleven,
you would lack some significant
personal sense of identity.

You may not realise that a name
is a terribly powerful thing.

In Egyptian mythology,
the Goddess Isis gains power
over the Sun-God, Ra,
by discovering his secret name.

In Greek, the word for “name” is onoma,
which itself is derived from
the word nomos meaning “law”,
“principle”, even “authority”.

Your name represents
not just a handy way of referring to you
other than “Oi! Fishface”
but marks you out as a being
in your own right
with a will,
a purpose
and an ability to express
that will and purpose.

Names have an intrinsic meaning.

Jonathan comes from the Hebrew
“Jeho Nathan”
meaning “God has given.”

In Latin that’s Deusdedit
– an early Archbishop of Canterbury,
or in Greek, Theodore.

“William” means a determined protector.

“Robert” means “famed” or “bright”,
the female equivalent is “Clare”.

“Raj” means “King”
as does “Roy” or “Rex”.

Most interesting is the name Joshua.

Joshua is the Hebrew word
meaning “God saves”.

It seems clear that the chap
in the Old Testament
who has a whole book named after him,
is instrumental in saving Israel.

One might say that he is well named.

Joshua was
and still is
a very common name.

If we now translate that name
into Greek we get some inkling
of how powerful a name can be.

So, if Joshua means “God saves”,
what’s the Greek version of Joshua?


The answer is, of course, Jesus.

Now think of the impact
of that name on humanity,
whether or not you happen to believe
in who Jesus claims to be.

For many people,
it’s a name so Holy that it needs
to be treated with the profoundest respect
for what they believe Jesus has done
and is doing for them.

For others it’s an expletive
- a word to use when your Xbox bursts into flames.

But, then why should any person’s name
become a swear word?

Would we like our name
to be used as a way of expressing
deep negative emotion?

Doesn’t that cheapen who we are?

Wouldn’t using that name in such a way
count as profound disrespect for that person?


This brings us back to the power of names.

We can ruin our good name,
just as Adolph Hitler
and Osama Bin Laden have done.

These names will always be associated with evil,
even if the owners of those names
were nonetheless highly flawed
and vulnerable human beings.

That was their fault,
a result of their choices.

Their acts changed the meanings of their names.

And Christians believe
that Jesus fulfilled the meaning of His name.

What then does this say
about the parent who calls their child
Daisy Boo, or Buddy Bear?

Have these children
been given a name
with which they can be respected?

Have these children been given a name
which they can make great
with works of kindness and hard work?

Surely this demonstrates
that some parents see their children
as fashion accessories
rather than people
with the potential to become great?

It’s going to be hard for
Daisy Boo Oliver to be taken seriously
with a name like that.

Perhaps she has the ability to do just that.


Whether or not you love or hate your name,
you still have the potential to make that name good.

You have the ability
to live your lives in such a way
that the mention of your name brings joy or relief
to whoever hears it.

You have the ability
to make the school proud
to have your name on its roll.

You have the ability
to pass on what your name means
not just to your children,
but to all who look up to you for inspiration.

Tough job.

How are you going to do that?

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