What is in a name?

“When Abigail saw David, she hurried and dismounted from her donkey, and fell on her face before David, . . . and said, . . . ‘Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him’” (1 Samuel 25:23-25 NASB).

A man prominent in certain circles in Nepal is well known for ascribing nicknames to associates. Unfortunately, being of rather satirical humor, those nicknames are often somewhat derogatory and are not always appreciated by those to whom they are given. That, of course, is not unusual with respect to nicknames; many people are known for traits, habits, or attitudes of which they are not necessarily proud. Grumpy of the “7 Dwarfs” in Snow White’s story comes to mind.

In the story of the sheep breeder from Carmel who offended David, I have sometimes wondered if his parents actually named him “Fool” (or perhaps “Folly”) from birth. It seems at least possible that this was a nickname given to him by associates because of his irascible temperament and unpleasant behavior. As his wife declared, “Folly is with him.”

If we were named for what we do, or say, or how we act, or for our perceived attitudes, what would we be called? Most of us would hope for something better than “Fool.”

An example of a much better name is that of the good man in Acts 4:36: “And Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means, Son of Encouragement) and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”

Now that is a name I could enjoy being called. Like so many other tributes though, that one was well earned. And that is really the point. When people know us and respect us, they show us honor by how they speak both to and about us. Many of us try to demand such respect. We may try to purchase it in one way or another. But true respect cannot be obtained in those ways. it must be earned by righteous and unselfish behavior.

When it comes to the giving of names, however, none will exceed the importance and value of those assigned by Jesus when he comes again. In his letter to the church of Philadelphia he promised, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name” (Revelation 3:12).

What names would it be better to be associated with throughout eternity than those of our Heavenly Father, our Savior and Lord, and of the Spiritual City which they will rule eternally? Even more appropriate than our behavior, our names can also derive from those or that with which we associate. If we belong to Christ and to his kingdom, what better name to be called by than his? It is not said without purpose, “and the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch” (Acts 11:26).

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