Tuesday, February 01, 2005


The Gift of a Name

"Go, my son, and seek your fortune. Go into the world and make a name for yourself." I bought it completely even when knowing that the statement was the start to many fairy tales. Silly as it was, the alternative was worse: let others name me. You don't want to know most of them. I ended up with no real name; I was a sort of ghost passing through the world, nearly unnoticed. Change came when I started doing sand sculpture. A man who wants to be unnamed and invisible shouldn't do art on a public beach. I earned a name doing that, but it's still just sand.

I think it's odd the way famous evangelists emblazon their names all over their organization. Jesus' name is in small print at the bottom of the page, and the real power in anything, the Holy Spirit, is never mentioned. Maybe that's because he's very far away, working among the unnamed, rebuilding lives quietly. If you ever see something named "Larry Nelson Ministries," I really hope you'll pick me up and throw me into a cold lake to wake me up. Gargh.

The subject of names has turned into something much richer than I expected. Debbie loaned me her copy of "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeleine L'Engle. In it the girl protagonist has to give a name to the school principal she dislikes. She's the only one who can do it, and it takes her a long time to see past her assumptions to the real man under all the myths she'd heard about him and then see his true name. She had to do this because other creatures were stealing his name bit by bit.

I've always wondered if there were any power in a name. Do people grow into big names? Name your child Alexander, will he conquer? It seems a bit too much like associative magic to me, almost as bad as eating your enemy's heart to take on his strength. What would happen if I started asking everyone to call me Laurence, instead of Larry? I've always though Larry was just a name, assigned so they wouldn't confuse me with the others as I do with sand sculptures. Most of them get a build number, such as 05F-1. They could have called me NSU-3M and had the same effect.

Then I read Doug Miller's "Searching for God Knows What," wherein he talks about Adam in the garden giving each animal a name. Miller thinks that this took some deep thought: seeing each animal as it was, knowing it whole with the senses that hadn't been affected by the fall, and then giving it a Name by which it would be known forever. C.S. Lewis visited this idea in one of the Narnia books, where Aslan sings the world into being and each animal comes out only partly formed. When they get their names, they become complete. I wonder how true that is. Where does a real name come from? What would I be called by someone who knew my soul?

Names are usually taken from doings. My name is in sand sculpture, toolmaking, bike riding, writing, iconoclasm, stubbornness. Things that I do. What about who I am? Who cares? All that matters is what I do; that's how I'm measured.

Dave responded to my story on names :

"Your comment: 'Identity comes from God Himself...' made me think of something I just read today, so I will share it with you. In Genesis 11:4 the peoples of planet Earth had come together to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Their motive for doing this is explained in verse 4: 'Let's build this tower to make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered abroad.' They were thinking that through their own efforts they could create their own identity (make a name for themselves - something to be recognized or remembered for). As you know their self centered attempts at creating an identity ended in even greater confusion (vs 6-9). On the other hand in Genesis 12:2, God is making a promise to Abraham which in essence was that if Abraham was willing to follow the Lord, He would bless Abraham, give him many descendants, make him a blessing to all the families of the Earth, and make his NAME (identity) great. When we allow our identity to be shaped as we are in relationship with God and obedient to Him, God gives a great name (identity) and our lives end up being a blessing to the nations."

I don't really know about being a blessing to the nations. That seems like an advanced degree to someone whose idea of a good day revolves around peace and quiet in isolation. Perhaps being an active blessing would be easier if I were to lay down the burden of trying to make my own name, and let God continue to sing a new identity into me. Well, not a new one, but the one he put there when he guided the gametes that would meet to make me.

I'd read those passages in Genesis, but never seen in them this idea about how we try to name ourselves. Dave is very sharp, with a unique way of seeing the heart of a concept. Don't tell him I said that because he'll be very embarrassed. That's not a name, by the way, but a description. The man himself is complex beyond what my words can show. You need to meet him. Learn his name from him.

2005 February 1
edited February 2

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