What's In a Name?

by Michelle Hodges

What’s in a name? Does a name really matter? These are two questions we pondered on our first night of Middle School RYM this year. I asked the kids if they knew what their names meant. I told them about how it was such a big deal to each of their parents to pick out “the perfect name”. Do we (parents) pick a name that’s trendy or traditional? Do we honor someone or just pick something we like? Will this name be easy to turn into embarrassing nicknames? Is it a name our kid will be proud to hear and say? Do these children have any idea how much pressure we were under?? I kid, I kid…. kinda….

That night at our large group meeting, our speaker for the week read and taught from Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God. He really dove into Jacob’s history and his character. Jacob’s name was not a good one. In his book on prayer, Tim Keller says this about names:

“For us, the term name may be just a label or a brand that can be discarded or changed at will, but in biblical times, it denoted the nature and very being of a person.” Pg 67

Jacob’s name was a confession. Jacob was named, labeled, and known as his greatest fault, the deceiver. Rebecca, his mother, knew from the moment of his birth what his worst characteristic would be, and she gave him his name as a confession for all the world to see and hear.

Thankfully, we know that God did not leave Jacob to be as he’d always been. In Genesis 32, we’re told that God comes to Jacob on a night where he is at his most vulnerable. He is completely alone with no clue what his future will look like, or if he even has a future. God comes and wrestles with Jacob until daybreak. Jacob never stops or lets go. Before letting go, Jacob realizes who it is he has fought against and demands a blessing. With that blessing, came a new name, given by God himself.

Verse 28 “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Tim Keller also tells us that “When God names someone, his very word also constitutes the person.” (pg 52, Prayer) Abram became Abraham, Saul became Paul, Jacob became Israel. God reached down from his throne and took hold of the most unlikely characters, renaming them to fulfill his glorious plan.

Through Jesus, we have the exact same experience. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that if we live by the Spirit, we will then be called sons of God.

“16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heir of God and fellow heirs with Christ,…”

While I am so proud to be named Ellen Michelle Montgomery Hodges, I am thankful, humbled, and awed to be called “heir”. I am so thankful that He changed my name from “enemy” to “daughter”. I am grateful to no longer be “exiled” but “beloved”. The power in a name from the Lord is undeniable and irresistible. His names mean everything.

1 Comment

Ellen Michelle, wow. This was very thought-provoking & powerful! I loved how you explained Jacob’s beginning & the significance of God’s re-naming him Israel! You hit a home run, my sister & co-heir!

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