What Is In a Name?

By Michael E. Brooks

“Now it came to pass in the thirty-seventh year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, that Evil-Merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, released Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. He spoke kindly to him, and gave him a more prominent seat than those of the kings who were with him in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:27-28).

Once again, I have been asked to provide a name for a new baby in Bangladesh. I am always honored, yet also humbled by such requests.
Typically the parents want a name that identifies their child as a Christian, but also one that will be easy to remember and say in a different language and culture, and one that will encourage and inspire the recipient towards Christian values. The responsibility to fulfill such goals is a serious one.
Is a name really that important? After all, as a common English proverb states, “A rose by any other name smells just as sweet.” Whereas there is truth to that, we all realize that names can at least point in positive or negative directions.
Few parents name their daughters “Jezebel” or their sons “Judas”. There are associations that go along with those names that we do not wish to attach to our offspring.
The importance of names may be illustrated by the oft repeated admonition of parents to children when they depart from their homes, “Remember your name.” That is to say, those parents want their children to act in such a way as to preserve family honor and reputation.
The parent believes that name stands for something, and does not want that earned respect to be diminished. We want a “good name” and we certainly need such, if we are to earn respect and honor in our societies.
But what about those who are not blessed with a good name? I was struck by the incongruity of the verses chosen as the text of this article. The King of Babylon performed a generous, gracious act towards one of his prisoners, the King of Judah. Further, he “spoke kindly” to him, and treated him better than other kings in Babylon.
This is not necessarily remarkable, until we notice that the Babylonian monarch’s name was “Evil.” One does not expect a man named “Evil” to do good things.
Granted, the word “Evil” in the name is an English translation of a Hebrew rendition of a Babylonian word. One must not stress the point over-much. A marginal note in my Bible says the name literally means “Man of Marduk”.
Still it illustrates the point that one’s name does not predestine one’s character or behavior. We can live down a bad name, overcoming it and transforming its previous connotations into something positive.
Is that not what we all have to do? We are “Human,” full of sin and error (Romans 3:23). Yet, we can be transformed (Romans 12:2), living so as to honor God and be a blessing to mankind.
Our former identity and condition does not doom us. God enables us to live that down, and to become something far better (Ephesians 4:22-24). He gives us a new name, one worthy of being lived up to (Revelation 2:17). Let us remember our name.

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Michael Brooks

Since 1988 Mike and his wife Brenda have been involved in foreign missions in South America, Africa, and South Asia. Beginning in 1999 they devoted full time to missions, primarily in Bangladesh and Nepal.

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One thought on “What Is In a Name?

  1. According to James E. Smith in his College Press Commentary on the Major Prophets (page 328), This Babylonian king was actually named Amel-Marduk, which means “man of Marduk.” The Jews referred to him as Evil-Merodach, which means “stupid one of Marduk.”
    That the Jews would alter the names of rulers can also be seen in this: Antiochus IV Epiphanes (epiphanes meaning basically one sent from heaven, or a god himself) was called by the Jews Antiochus IV Epimenes (Antiochus the madman).
    Just for what it is worth. I found it interesting.

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