My son got married last month and he changed his last name.
Yes, you read that right—my son changed his last name. It was an unorthodox decision, although not without precedent. But it got me thinking about names and what they mean to us.
One of the first things that happens to us at birth is receiving a name from our parents. Usually this name has been carefully considered and holds some significant meaning. Sometimes it reflects ethnic heritage, other times it is chosen to honor someone important to our parents. Sometimes the name is unique, other times very traditional. But whatever name is chosen, it quickly becomes the way in which we are identified. “What’s the name?” is usually the first question we ask when a baby is born!
Surnames, last names, family names–those are another story. These kinds of names are usually passed on without much choice involved, either on the part of the parents or the child. Most people are exceptionally proud of their last names. Surnames connect us to something larger than ourselves. They place us in a heritage that comes down from the past and, we hope, will carry into the future. They indicate belonging, tribe, family. They are significant and lasting in a way that first names usually are not.
The important thing about names is that they identify us, both as individuals and by relationship. Think of what the world would be like if we didn’t have names to distinguish us from one another! But names are not only there for the convenience of others, but for ourselves as well. And if the name we have carried through our lives so far no longer captures who we feel ourselves to be, perhaps it is only right for our names to change. In many cultures this is a given. Names are changed for all sorts of reasons: significant life events, experiences survived, commitments made, life trajectories changed.
One of the names I hold dear is “child of God.” That is a name that is integral to my identity and is one I am proud to bear. It is a name I share in common, I believe, with everyone in the world. And it affects how I see them. Sharing a name, an identity, connects people. It is harder to see someone as “other” when you share their name. You may disagree sometimes, even fight, but in the end you still belong. And isn’t that one of the things most human beings desire, to belong?
Proverbs 22:1a says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” How does your name show who you are? If it doesn’t, perhaps it is time for a change. You can change your name to fit yourself or change yourself to fit your name. Either way, let your name be one that you are proud to bear and proud to share. Who are you? Name it!