A funny phrase popped into my head recently: “The Theology of a Name.”
You might be wondering what I mean by that… and I’m not sure I really know either!
But the bottom line is: names are important.
But why do I say the “theology” of a name, instead of just the “importance” of a name? Because God reveals himself to us by name. The Father, the First Person of the Trinity: “I am.” The Son, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity: “Jesus.”
The more I think about the beauty and importance and power of his name, the more I think God is teaching us something about how names reveal the identity of the one named, and how this applies to each of us.
And that’s what I want to dig into a little bit, today!
What do you mean by Theology of a Name?
In a nutshell, what I mean by Theology of a Name is threefold:
- the name of Jesus teaches us who he is,
- our names are part of our identity
- names are to be reverenced
And I’m still working through these ideas in my head, but let’s see where this takes us!
Let’s start with a great Catholic definition of a name from Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary
Name: In biblical usage, not only the title by which a person is called, but the term by which the person is identified.
Names and Titles
So for example, Mary has titles – Mother of God, Mediatrix, Our Lady of __(insert any apparition)__, the Immaculate Conception.
But if you notice, all these titles describe some sort of aspect of her, but not the essence of who she is.
But she has another (I guess you could call it) “title” – her name: Mary. And this is her actual name: Mary. And her name is the term by which she is identified.
And it’s also cool, the Angel Gabriel calls her, “Full of Grace” – which is a singular identifying name (if you will), that really encapsulates the essence of who she is.
So Mary has names, but she also has titles. Her name evokes her identity, and her titles evoke a particular aspect of who she is.
The Most Powerful Name of Jesus
And this happens with Jesus too, names and titles.
According to Fr. Hardon, when counting titles given to Christ in scripture and the liturgy, the Old Testament has 26 distinct Messianic titles and about 65 in the New Testament.
Among his many titles are: Son of God, Son of David, Messiah, Lamb of God, Light of the World, and many more. These all reveal an aspect of who he is.
These titles serve to bring out certain qualities of Christ as God or as the Savior or as Man.
But when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he revealed the name of Christ: Jesus.
And the Angel revealed to Mary that this Jesus is the Son of God!
Whereas all of Jesus’ titles reveal things about him, the name of Jesus finally reveals who he is, his identity. Before this moment in Salvation History, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was unknown to man. In the revelation of his name, he is made known to us.
The name that identifies him, the name Jesus, is “the name that has power above all names!”
The name of Jesus reveals his identity.
He is the Son of God.
Hi, I’m Sara. But I’m also Mom.
Likewise, our names reveal our identity.
We have names. Hi I’m Sara.
But I also have titles, like “Mom, sister, daughter, wife, Mrs.” And some of these titles, people actually call me – like Mom, and Mrs Estabrooks.
And these titles reveal the relationship which different people have with me.
But my name is who I am, it’s a part of my identity, an identifying factor (as Father Hardon says).
When someone (say my husband for example,) talks to me and uses my name, I feel known and connected to in a different way than when someone calls me by one of my titles.
Why we should use names reverently
I think it’s important that we use each other’s names, and that we use them reverently.
For example, the names of Jesus deserves the highest reverence “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10)
That’s why we make sure to never take the name of Jesus (or God) in vain, and why it’s good to make it a practice to bow our heads at the name of Jesus.
And after that, we reverence the name of Mary. I know a few holy priests who bow their heads or take their hats off at the name of Mary. I think this is a beautiful sign of respect for the Mother of God!
When we reverence the names of Jesus and Mary, we’re reverencing the person himself (or herself as the case may be).
And I think this applies, though in a lesser sense, to every person.
Sometimes when I talk to my husband around the kids I say “hey Daddy,” addressing him by his title in relationship to our kids.
But I think it’s important to talk to him by name, by identity too – to reverence the entire person he is, and not just one of his titles, or one aspect of him.
Likewise, my kids refer to me as “Mom,” my friends’ kids refer to me as “Mrs.,” and a stranger in the grocery store might get my attention by saying, “Excuse me, Ma’am.”
But when my husband, my friends, my parentings, my family, call me by my name: Sara, that’s when I feel most reverenced for who I am, to the core of my identity.
That’s when I feel most known and loved for who I am as a being, and not just for who I am in relation to the people around me.
These people – though beloved by me, part of my life, part of my vocation – are not who defines me. I am defined not by my relationship to them, but by my relationship to God my Creator, who gives me my identity as an individual person.
Jesus was made known to us by name when he was revealed as the Son of God. At the deepest and most integral part of our being, our identity is beloved children of God.
He calls us each by name, he knows who we are and who he made us to be.
And for that reason, our identity is precious, holy, worthy. And when we speak the name that evokes our identity, we must honor that this identity is wrapped up in our relationship to God our Father.
So we must speak each other’s names, not just nicknames, not just titles.
And in speaking those names, we must see beyond the limited roles a person plays in this world, and cherish them as individuals, beloved by God and known to him by the very same name which we speak.
Using Reverence When Speaking our Kids’ Names
I feel we also need to take great care, when we’re speaking to our children, to use their names, and to use them with reverence.
When I talk to my kids, I often use nicknames or terms of endearment – honey, sweetie, princess, buddy – which are good, in themselves!
But again, these are titles, and not my children’s identity.
So I try to make sure I also speak to them lovingly using their names. Just as I feel known and loved when spoken to by name, I want to give that same knowing and loving to my kids.
At times, as a parent, we need to discipline / scold / reprimand our kiddos. And because our children’s names are tied up with their identity, I think it’s important that when correcting our kids, we make sure to reverence the use of their names.
I feel it’s vital to make sure that we give them more loving associations with their names than disappointed or angry connotations with their names, so as not to hurt their concept of their identities as beloved children of God. (This is something I’m working on!)
So speak their names most often gently and lovingly, knowing that their names evoke their identities, and their identities are children of God, made in his image – whose name we reverence above all.
What Do you think of this concept?
Granted, I’m no theologian, but I enjoy thinking and musing about topics like this that help me love God more, and love my neighbor as a child of God.
So let me know what you think of this idea of the “Theology of a Name” and if it changes the way you think about the name of Jesus and the practical use of names.
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