Tuesday, January 10, 2012
What's in a name?
Naming a child is an awesome responsibility. Think about it: you are creating an identity for a person that will carry them throughout their life. It's what their kindergarten pals will call them, their college sweetheart will whisper in their ear, and what they will print on their business cards. It forms, in part, the core of their personal identity.
My name is a bit off-beat. "Elise" is far more common now than it was when I was growing up, but I still get "Elsie" ALL the time. (My apologies to all "Elsies" out there, but...yuck.) However, I love my name: it's who I am. It's me. My parents carefully and joyfully chose my name for me. And for the record, I was named after a Sister of St. Joseph - my mom's favorite teacher.
As a Catholic, we get the opportunity to choose names for ourselves as well. How many 14 year olds are right now trying to decide on Confirmation names: Hubert or Francis, Therese or Mary? We do it to honor saints, grandparents, beloved family members - both immediate family and the family of Christians we belong to. We choose it because we want to model that person's life, behavior, spirituality.
The community of Franciscans I belong to bestow names on us as well, the lay people who receive spiritual formation from them and support them in their endeavors. Mine is Ruth, the heroine of the Jewish people, remembered for adapting to and adopting a people "not her own".
We know that God's name is to be used honorably and with great love. We speak His name in reverence, in charity and in devotion. Names are important, not frivolous. They are not ornaments - like designer handbags or $200 sneakers - but a designation of our eternal identity, and not just children of our earthly parents, but our Eternal Parent. That's why the Church gives us, as parents, some guidelines:
2156 The sacrament of Baptism is conferred "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." In Baptism, the Lord's name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The "baptismal name" can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. "Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment."...
2158 God calls each one by name. Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.
2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God's name will shine forth in splendor.
(The Catechism of the Catholic Church)
THAT'S what's in a name: dignity, respect, the sacred, the eternal. A child deserves the very best a parent can bestow on him or her - the "mysterious and unique character" that will shine throughout all eternity.