That is a very good question. In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, two families have been warring for who knows how long. The Montague’s and Capulet’s are bitter enemies. They may not even remember what started the feud, but it continued still. The problem – Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet… and never the two shall meet. Because of this, their love, their relationship, seems doomed.
Juliet, declares, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” She tries to convince Romeo that she loves him, not his name! A wonderful sentiment, but it really didn’t solve their dilemma.
Names are significant. They define something or someone. They create some order; they distinguish one from another. What would life be like if everything were named “Thingy” and everyone were called “Hey You!” We would definitely be lost in a sea of people, just like a drop of water is lost in the sea.
From the very beginning, God named what He created. He made light and named it “light.” He separated light from “no light” and called this absence “darkness.”
He also created things, like the sun, moon and stars and named their purposes – to separate light from darkness, to rule the night and the day, and to mark the seasons.
So, God named His creation according to their characteristics and their purposes … their functions.
But God isn’t the only one who named creation. He told man to name the animals, so Adam did. How he came up with all those names, I have no idea. But He was created in the image of God so it is logical that his names distinguished one animal from another and had something to do with their characteristics and purposes.
In biblical times children were given names with meanings. A beautiful baby might be named after a flower or a sunset. They might be named in remembrance of an ancestor; or the name might express the parents’ hopes and dreams for that child.
Rabbi Wein, on Torah.org states “For in our name lies our soul and self. That is why Jews always placed great emphasis on naming a child, for in that name there lay the history and past of the family and the hopes and blessings for the newborn’s success – Jewish success – in life.”
I’ve known more and more people who are discovering the importance of names. Our daughter had trouble carrying her last child. After several miscarriages, the chosen name reflects God’s faithfulness to answer her prayers. When we named our children, we didn’t even think much about meaning. Our son was named after his dad and would carry on our name. Our daughters – well I just liked those names! I later looked up the meanings, and I’m glad they are all good! Names today are more and more “original” … not as traditional as they used to be. But they still distinguish us, one from the other.
This Hebrew culture of giving meaningful names to people, places, and things occurs all throughout the bible – old and new testaments.
When God found a man who would believe Him and make covenant with Him, Abram, He changed his name to reflect His covenant promise. Abram means “Exalted Father.” That is a great name, but it must have caused him heartache because he had no children. But God changed his name to Abraham, which means “Father of a multitude” to reflect the promise that nations would come from his loins.
God has names, too. In the story of creation in Genesis, He is called “Elohiym, “ which means not only God, but the Supreme God, the True God – and Elohiym is plural. (The Trinity right from the start! I love it!)
But Elohiym wasn’t the only god around. The nations worshipped lots of other “gods.” So, when God showed up and showed off, God’s people demonstrated the importance of names by giving their true, supreme God a name to recognize what He’d done, and to distinguish Him from all the other “little-g” gods.
When Hagar was running from Sarah (Genesis 16), the Angel of the Lord appears to her in the desert, gives her a promise, and tells her to return to Sarah. Hagar calls God “El Roi,” the God (El) who sees (Roi.) God was telling her (and us) that He sees us … individually. We are NOT just a drop in a sea of humanity!
When Abraham was about to sacrifice his long awaited son, Isaac, another Angel of the Lord tells him to stop, and look for the ram, caught in a bush, provided as the sacrifice. Abraham gave God the Name “Jehovah Jireh,” The Lord (Jehovah) Will See to It (Jireh). It is also translated “The LORD Will Provide.” God showed Abraham that if a sacrifice is required, God will provide the sacrifice.” Wow! And He did!
There are many more places in the Old Testament, where people gave God names according to how He had revealed Himself to them. But there are also lots of places where God uses names to describe Himself.
Isaiah 9:6 prophesies the coming Messiah, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Notice that the Trinity appears here, too. Everlasting Father, Mighty God (Father God), Prince of Peace (Jesus) and Wonderful Counselor (Holy Spirit.) God was revealing more of what He is like.
Jesus showed that a name is important. He called James and John the “Sons of Thunder“ probably describing their demeanor. In Matthew 16:18, after Peter declares that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus says, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” He changed his name from Simon to Peter – petros, meaning a stone, or piece of a large rock. (An interesting fact. Petros is masculine. Peter was a man. Petra, the foundation on which the church is built, is feminine. The church is the Bride of Christ. )
I say all this to say that names are important. What we call someone or something is critical. Obviously, if we call a person by a demeaning name, it adversely affects them. To illustrate, no one should be called a “mistake” or a “loser” or a “less than.” Names have consequences. It is also important how we speak into our own lives, or the lives of others.
Last year I sold my house and had to stay with family while my new house was being built. It was a very unsettling time. I was moaning to my girlfriend that I was going to be “homeless.” Thank God for friends willing to speak truth. My friend quickly corrected me for speaking so negatively. I was in transition, but NOT HOMELESS! That one word change immediately affected my outlook, my mood and dispelled fear.
I say all this to help explain why we are to treat God’s Name as Holy. His Names describe His Character. Names are important… sacred. God’s Names are REALLY important, sacred and holy.