I have been thinking about names a lot lately. I have several friends who have unusual names, and I love hearing the story of how they were given their name. This month I have attended several conferences, and I have had to learn lots of new names. People have had to learn my name too. It feels so amazing when someone we don’t expect to knows our name. We feel seen in ways that the deepest part of our soul longs for. Names are important.
I go to the same Thai restaurant on a way-too-embarrassing frequency. Last night, the owner of the restaurant came up to me and called me by name. He has known my roommate’s name for a long time, but last night he said my name and it surprised me how touched I was. He has always greeted me, and he has always made me feel important by remembering my favorite order; but it wasn’t until he used my name that I realized that this restaurant and the folks who own it have become an important part of the rhythm of my life. Names are important.
I try and say peoples’ names whenever I serve communion. It is amazing to see peoples’ reaction when you simply whisper their name. “The body of Christ broken for you, Sarah.” It takes it to a different level. I didn’t realize the significance of this until a couple of years ago. I was helping to serve communion at my parents’ church while I was visiting home. As is my usual practice, I looked everyone in the eye, and I said the names of those I knew. I didn’t think anything of it. I hadn’t helped with anything other than handing out the bread, so I forgot I had even been a part of worship. A woman came up to my parents the next week and said that the experience was the most moving time for her; that she would never forget the way she received communion. Why is that? What was different? I had simply said her name. Names are important.
We all know the opposite feeling – when someone who should know your name gets it wrong. I have been guilty of this. I am always mortified when I call someone by the wrong name. In college, my sorority asked us to learn the names of all of the girls who were new to the sorority. I did my due diligence learning their names and calling out to all of them on campus. One day, a girl I had gone to high school and played soccer with crossed my path, and I called her the wrong first and last name. I was so embarrassed. The name I called her was one I knew from high school and had the same first letters, but that wasn’t an excuse and this girl rightfully never let it go. She and I became friends, and she would always bring up that I forgot her name. I knew part of her was joking, and another part really felt like she was not seen or known, simply because I did not know her name. Names are important.
This week one of the biggest news stories has been about a name, and what knowing that name means. The world was introduced to Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner. Bruce Jenner was someone ‘known.’ He is a sports hero and the father and step-father of some pretty famous ladies. By all accord, the public thought they knew Bruce Jenner, but the world has had to learn a new name: Caitlyn. Caitlyn was introduced this week on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. What I have noticed is that those who understand the process, or at the least are willing to honor someone else’s decision to go through it, have begun to call her Caitlyn, leaving the former name behind. Those who have an issue with what has transpired seem to cling to the former name, using it first and then adding the new name: Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn. I learned about Caitlyn from a friend’s facebook post. I had already heard about the famous interview, but I learned about the magazine cover from my friend Alex’s page. Alex has gone through a similar transition and here is what he said:
“Yesterday, while at First United Methodist Church In Athens, Ohio, an older, long-time member of the church left another conversation and came up to me, grabbing me with both arms. She said, ‘Hi! I’m so glad to see you again! Now, when I knew you last, you were Tiffanie; who are you now?’ I replied, ‘Alex.’ She said, ‘I’m so happy to meet you Alex!,’ and proceeded to give me an enormous hug. With the same heart I’m thrilled to say, I’m so happy to meet you Caitlyn! Welcome to freedom.”
Names are important.
God changed a lot of names: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul became Paul, Simon was renamed Peter, and that is just a few of them. Clearly, God thinks names are important. I think God knows all of our names, and that makes me smile. So what does it mean when we change our name? I could go on and on about how we change our names at marriage or after a divorce, but for now I want us to think about the importance of a name for those who have made a decision to live into a new life. Are we willing to honor the new name? As for me I can only say “Hello Caitlyn, nice to meet you.”