By Michael E. Brooks
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).
Most converts to the Gospel in South Asia come out of Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist backgrounds. Many are young adults, who will bear children into their now Christian families. Frequently I am asked to suggest “Christian” names for the newborn child. This is partly to honor me, but primarily because they have little knowledge of such names or resources for learning them.
When I first began to receive such requests I took it as an honor, but otherwise wondered if the practice had much real significance or value. After all, it would be likely that the child would soon acquire a more familiar nick-name and his strange sounding proper name would be rarely used.
However with more experience I have come to a much different opinion. Most of the names I have suggested are used commonly by their recipients. More importantly, I now see a value in the wearing of such names that I did not at first perceive.
In cultures where there is strong presence of multiple religions, ethnicities, or social castes, one’s name often not only identifies the particular individual in a physical sense, but also signals much about his community identity.
A Muslim child may be named after an historic Islamic figure (e.g., Mohammed) or a Biblical figure associated with Ishmael (e.g., Hagar). Hindus frequently are given the names of one of their many deities (e.g., Krishna, Vishnu). Other names are ethnic or caste related. Simply stating one’s name reveals his or her religion, tribe, caste or other background information.
This is not to say that all converts are obligated Biblically to change their names. The New Testament does not require this. However when one wishes to publicly profess their faith, the custom of adapting a suitable name is one way to accomplish this goal.
To those of us for whom Christian names are the common and accepted norm, there is another consideration. When one wears a name associated with Biblical faith (John, James, Peter, Paul, etc.), will his actions reflect upon that name, and thus upon the credibility of Christianity itself? If such a person acts wickedly, is there some negative impact upon Christianity?
In the west such negative influence is probably minimal, since we do not tend to think of those names as signifying personal commitment to Christ. However in other nations there is definitely a tendency to make this association.
A Christian man took a Hindu’s wife in a Nepali village. Immediately all Christians were labeled by them as “wife-stealers.” One need only give his name to receive this hostile greeting.
Paul commanded, “Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” There are many appropriate applications of this instruction. If one wears a human name taken from a faithful New Testament character, just living up to his own identity is a good start.
By Michael E. Brooks