What’s in a name? Apparently a lot. While a rose by any other name may smell as sweet, it just doesn’t SOUND the same. Just try to name a baby and you will find out. Especially if you are bridging two cultures. Names which sound good in one culture, don’t translate so well, because words, even the SOUND of words, carry associations.
Case in point. My youngest daughter Petra… when she was born there was much conjecture as to a name. Some relatives chimed in “Oh… you have to name her Awattif. It is such a nice sounding name. Well, if you are Arabic maybe. But I could see my daughter getting nicknamed “What-if?” Had she been a boy, we were thinking of the name Peter. But Peter in Arabic is Butros and I could well envision a boy going to school and getting called “Butt-Roast”. Turns out, she dogded that bullet as a girl. Petra was a concession that just sounded a bit more pedestrian.
What you call someone is a loaded affair. For that reason, stars are famous for changing their handles from something awkward to something dashing. There is a long list.
Jayzee born Shawn Corey Carter
Michael Landon born Eugene Maurice Horowitz
Bob Dylan born Robert Allen Zimmerman
Elton John born Reginald Kenneth Dwight
George Michael born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou
Freddy Mercury born Farrokh Bulsara
Lady Gaga born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta
Sophia Loren born Sofia Villani Scicolone
Shania Twain born Eilleen Regina Edwards
Jane Seymour born Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg
Woody Allen born Allen Stewart Konigsberg
Natalie Wood born Natasha Nikolaevna Zakharenko
Gene Simmons born Chaim Klein Witz
Martin Sheen born Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez
You get the drift. The fact is, what you call someone changes how you see them, and how you treat them. That is why is it unfortunate to get a nerdy sounding name in high school, because that awkward handle can bog you down for life.
What you are called, can also change your career trajectory. Rick Springfield is an unfortunate name, for reasons you might not expect. He has complained that he rode the path to obscurity because his name was so darned close to Bruce Springsteen. They co-existed in the same place at the same time and only one name would survive popular recollection. As soon as people heard Spring-something, they said, “Oh, yeah, that guy who wrote Born to Run and The River.”
Sometimes names follow appearance, or behaviour. When my wife first came here, she asked me… “What do you call that black bird with the red wings?” I said, “You mean the red-winged black bird?” “Yes, she replied, “So, what do you call it?” Of course, I could make fun of that, but when I turned fifty, the kids got me a “Grumpy” hat. No further explanation required.
This comes up in the Bible. Jesus was beset with issues of mistaken identity even by his own family. John the Baptist, his own cousin, once sent emissaries to check if he had got the Messiah label wrong. Luke 7:19, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus sent them back with this reply, quoting from the Book of Isaiah: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor”.
What’s in a name?
The question comes up again, this time asked directly by Jesus. He wanted to know what his own disciples understood about him, beyond the rumours.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
Peter got the answer right. It was not derived from a gossip magazine or Entertainment Tonight. It was perceived through the eyes of the Spirit, as enabled by God.
As a direct question, it requires an answer. It might be the question that determines the the course of your life. Jesus didn’t leave it up to conjecture, he made it personal.
“And what about you. Who do YOU say that I am?”