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FAMILY LIFE | What’s in a name?

Ruth S. Morales

I met a pregnant lady in one of the refugee camps in Africa, and she told me she would name her baby “Ruth”. “I’ll name her after you”, she said. I can’t recall how I exactly reacted but until now I’m surprised and feel honored at how she decided to name her baby after me.

One of my joys being an English teacher in China before was giving my students their English names. I felt “powerful” doing that especially when they would line up in front of me, excitedly waiting for the pronouncement of their name. I would take a few seconds to look at them and then give out the name that comes to mind. Sometimes, I based it on their personality. Sometimes, I named them after relatives and friends who looked like them. It’s tasking but fun. There was a time when I decided to just make a list of names, separating male and female names, and let my students pick the name they liked. Once the name is taken, they must look for another name. You can imagine how they negotiated and traded for the name they liked. The dynamic was fun to watch. But trouble came when I called “Peter” to the board and a lady came forward. “I am Peter”, she insisted. Later, I learned that when all female names were taken, the rest of the ladies picked their names from the other list. Hah! That was hilarious.

In Thailand, one of the culture shocks I experienced when I met my first batch of students was the way they picked their English name. I still couldn’t figure out how they got it or who gave it to them. They usually would smile if I asked them. In my class I had students named Bank, Golf, Boat, Boss, Gift, and Guide. I also met parents who introduced their babies as Sofa and Furniture. There’s also a family that named their children Piano, Guitar, and Violin. We may laugh because it’s different from our culture’s way of giving names, but I have not met a student who was not proud of his/her name. 

On one gathering, my husband was in a group of international students. One student was giving other students their English names. “I will call you Flying Pig”, he said to one student. Everyone was shocked and exploded into laughter. “Why laugh? I’m serious.” He was surprised, too.

Many of us, if not all, have stories of how we got our name or how we named each of our children. Some names were given randomly, some with careful considerations, and some were coined after the names of the parents or grandparents. I have a relative whose name was changed because the first one given was believed to have brought bad luck to her. My parents managed to name all of us, 7 children, with R as beginning letter, after my father, Rafael. And there was a couple who looked up to my father and so named their children after all of us in the same order! 

I remember how my husband and I carefully and prayerfully took time in naming each of our children. We wanted to make sure the name does not only sound good but also has a good meaning. An uncle told us, his nieces, during a family reunion to make sure our babies’ names will not sound too cute when they grow old. ‘Make sure your children won’t hate you for the names you’re giving them”, said one colleague who abhors her full name.

As a Bible reader, I discovered that even God cares about names. He changed names of people: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Hadassah to Esther, Simon to Peter, and Saul to Paul, to signify a new identity and destiny. I also have friends from Roman Catholic background, who named their children after patron saints. And in other religions, I heard that people would seek a wise person or a leader of the group to give names for their children based on what they believe the child’s future would be. 

So, what’s in a name? Why do we care so much about it? Common sense would tell us that it is important because we carry our name throughout and beyond our lifetime. It’s, in fact, the first question we ask when meeting a person for the first time. We live with it, and it is tied to who we are as a person -our identity, honor, and reputation. That’s how important it is that’s why we work hard to create a good name for ourselves, and we don’t want to be associated with people whose names are tainted with controversies and scandals. And as parents, we want to protect our name because we know it’s our legacy to our children and even to the generation after them.

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches. -Proverbs 22:1a

A good name is better than precious ointment. – Ecclesiastes 7:1a


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