Besides being the 1st Sunday after Christmas and of course, New Year’s Day, the 1st of January is also the Feast of the Holy Name.
And this conflating of dates got me to thinking: what’s in a name? Where do they come from? And what do they mean?
Family names, of course, come from family. But what about our first names? What about what we used to call our Christian name – given to us at our Christening?
Born in the winter of 1955, I am the third baby bird of six. My mother, on her third day of lying in at Providence Hospital, still had not come up with a name for Baby Girl Peacock.
In walks a nurse, a Sister of Charity. “What’s your name?” my mother asks her. “Joan”, she says, “Joan.” So that’s what my mom writes on my birth certificate: Joan. And for a middle name, she throws in her own: Louise.
Joan Louise: named not for Joan Fontaine, not for Joan Crawford, not for Joan Rivers and not even possibly for the Catholic saint – Joan of Arc . This Joan was named for a kind yet random stranger.
Adding insult to injury, my name is also just a single syllable, as plain Jane (or as lonely Joan) as you can get.
As a kid, I tried very hard – on paper, at least, to stretch my name into something more significant. I added letters: J-o-a-n became J-o-a-n-I- became J-o-a-n-i-E became J-o-a-n-N-i-e.
As a middle child, who regularly disappeared into the woodwork, I wanted my name to matter. I wanted it to mean something.
So what’s in a name, your name, and what does it mean?
And since it’s the Feast of the Holy Name, what’s up with the mysterious and mystical name of God?
The Hebrew name of God was so holy and so sacred it was unspeakable. Marked out by four consonants – YHWH – it was never to be pronounced. Never to be prayed aloud.
But that did not keep God’s people, old and new, from calling on HER by every name they could think of (and to name just a few:)
I AM THAT I AM
Ancient of Days
O Holy One(s)
The Most High
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel
The Desire of the Nations
King of Kings
Lord of Lords
Prince of Peace
The God of Mary, the God of Joseph
The Light of the World
The Word Incarnate
The Word made flesh
Meister Eckhart, a mystic of the middle ages, wrote: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” And each person born into this world is a “little word” of God.
EVERY person born into this godforsaken world is conceived as a little word of God.
And no matter our “Christian” names (or Islamic or Hindu or Jewish or Mormon or Agnostic names), we are put on this earth to name and proclaim all that is holy and good –
– in ways both little and large.
To name it and proclaim it — in the midst of all that is NOT so holy and NOT so good.
In the fallout of all things 2016,
this 2017, let’s make a resolution or two,
that with God’s help, we remain faithful to, all the year long.
To no longer label and segregate our neighbors –but — to love and serve our neighbors, as ourselves;
To tame our wicked and wounding tongues,
so that we may make flesh these healing words of God:
And the greatest WORD of these is — LOVE.