What's in a Name?

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What’s in a name?

My parents named me Megan Lorraine. Megan is the Welsh spelling. There are variations of the name depending on where it originates: Meagan, Meghan, Maegan, Meaghan, etc. It is the Welsh diminutive of Margaret. Right now the name Megan ranks 164th in popularity in the US. The name peaked in popularity in the mid 1980’s when about 1.1% of girls born were given the name. I remember someone in the early 1990s telling me I was too old to be a Megan because the only Megans around were toddlers. It has since dropped off to about .10%. At the time I was named, Megan meant “strong and able.” Now the meaning has changed somewhat, but when I look it up it means, “a pearl.” I love this since my beloved 92 year old grandmother’s name is Pearl. The crazy thing is that when we moved from Alaska to Washington a few months ago we moved into a house where a girl named Megan had been raised and her aunt Megan lives across the street. There are Megans aplenty on our street even though the name isn’t popular.

Lorraine on the other hand means “laurel-crowned” or “kingdom of Lothar.” The name peaked in popularity in the 1920s and doesn’t even show up on ranking charts these days. My parents gave me the name, not because of the meaning, but because it is the middle name of my mother’s aunt Lena Lorraine, who I love.

My husband’s name is Denis. Yes, I spelled it correctly. People add an extra “n” or an “e” at the end constantly because the spelling seems wrong to Americans. Denis is the French spelling. It was his grandfather’s middle name. Saint Denis of France was credited with converting the Gauls to Christianity in the 3rd century and beheaded because of it. It’s a pretty awesome heritage for a guy with a name meaning, “of the god of wine!”

Probably the funniest example of an unfortunate name for a career choice would be my paternal great-grandfather. His name was Hazzard Alexander Purdy. He was a dentist. Would you go to a dentist named Hazzard? Um, no.

These days the meaning of names doesn’t seem to have any bearing on the reason why a child is given a certain name. The most popular girls name for the last few years is seemingly as a result of a popular book series. Name trends are fickle now. While my husband and I steadfastly avoided any names on the most popular list we tend to be in the minority. Also these days it is important to ask the spelling of a name because, even if it seems familiar. Parents sometimes tweak the spelling to add a unique flair; i.e. replacing an “i” with a “y” or even adding an apostrophe just for kicks and maybe just a hint of Vulcan. (Trekkies will understand this reference)

When we look back at Biblical times, names were given because they had meaning in the family or described a particular situation surrounding a birth. Samuel is the perfect example of this. The name Samuel means, “The Lord hears.” If you look at a graph of popularity for the name Samuel you see a fairly steady stream across the years peaking in the 1970s. It’s not popular, but also not absent. About .5% of boys are given the name each year and I know from experience it tends to be more popular with the church going crowd.

The reason I loved the name is that when I was in high school I was told it might be difficult for me to conceive. I was diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance called Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a very common reason for infertility troubles in women. Literally about 10% of women suffer from this syndrome to varying degrees and it’s possibly as a result of all the hormones injected into meat, but that’s not the only theory. It is marked by a myriad of symptoms from male pattern hair growth, weight gain and anovulation, meaning the absence of normal ovulation. In some very extreme cases women tend to look very masculine or can be completely infertile. Mine was marked by the fact that I started having periods before I went into 7th grade and then they stopped after a few years. When I finally told my parents years later, they sent me to an OB/GYN who diagnosed me with PCOS and gave me the unenviable news that I might never have children without help. So I started identifying with Hannah in the Bible.

1 Samuel 1 tells her story. Hannah is loved by her husband, but is infertile. Her husband’s other wife had children and the Bible says that she rubbed it in Hannah’s face. Hannah cries out to the Lord and is heard. She gives birth and calls her son Samuel, “because I asked the Lord for him.” She is still my favorite character in the Bible even though it turned out I never really struggled with infertility. About nine weeks after my husband and I started trying to get pregnant we found out I was already six weeks along. Even though infertility didn’t really turn out to be an issue for me I still love Hannah and named our firstborn, Samuel.

But why would a name be changed on purpose? We have always rescued animals rather than seeking out bloodlines. We were told when adopting a dog it’s best to change their name to help them with the transition to a new owner. We got a bloodhound mix puppy off craigslist and named him Hazard (after my paternal grandfather). That was a mistake and he lived up to his name. After six months of terror and destruction we gave him up. He had literally ruined thousands of dollars of our possessions, chewed up part of our deck and terrorized our one year old son. The horror! Honestly that dog almost ruined me for dogs. Months later we tried again. We found a dog on craigslist again. We were told he was a pure bred St. Bernard, but after years with him we have realized that while he may have some Saint he is also half “sneaky neighbor dog.” He is very small for a Saint and doesn’t drool in the least, THANK GOD! His name was “Go-gee” and we didn’t like that name at all. Our son had just started talking and would say, “Doo-wee, doo-wee, doo-wee” constantly. So when we brought “Go-gee” into our home we renamed him “Dewey.” Dewey is not be the greatest name. I think it makes him sound a little dopey, but he is the best dog ever! Honestly, the only things that would make him more perfect is if he had a hypoallergenic coat and if he didn’t shed or poo. Dewey loves us and we love him. He has a bark that is big enough to intimidate even a grown man, but a wonderful disposition. Our daughter was born about a year after we got Dewey and he was her main motivation for crawling. She would crawl over to him, flop on his back and use him as a pillow. She would grab handfuls of his fur and try to pull it into her mouth and he wouldn’t even whine. He loves her and she loves him. He would sit under her highchair because she would pass him anything she didn’t want to eat and still to this day he follows her around using what we call affectionately refer to as the “Dewey mind trick” where he stares at her until she gives him a dog bone. Would he have been as great with the name Go-gee? It’s probable, but we gave him a new name to separate his old life from his new one and he has embraced us fully.

When we look at Biblical times we see many examples of characters having their name changed either by God or someone else in authority. God changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, Jacob’s name to Israel, Saul to Paul, etc. Why? Abram became Abraham at the time of his circumcision and covenant with the Lord. It denoted a change in situation and an upgrade from a man who followed God to a man who would become the father of nations. Jacob’s name was changed as he became the origin of the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Saul’s name was changed to Paul at his conversion from the Pharisee who was killing Christians to an apostle of Christ.

A close look at Daniel shows us how much the name of the characters is part of their identity. Daniel, Hanaiah, Mishael and Azariah were taken from Judah by king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. After they were taken the king renamed them all. Daniel became Belteshazzar, Hanaiah became Shadrach, Mishael became Meshach and Azariah became Abednego.

The name Daniel means “God is my judge”, whereas the name Belteshazzar means, “Bel will protect.” Hanaiah means, “Yah has been gracious” (Yah is a contraction for “Yahweh”), whereas Shadrach means “inspired by Aku.” Mishael means “who is what God is”, whereas Meshach means “belonging to Aku.” Azaraih meaning “Yah has helped” is changed to Abednego meaning, “servant of Nego.” The names given to the children of Judah all centered on the one true God. The new names centered on Bel, Nego & Aku who were the false gods of the Babylonians. Beth Moore, in her study “Daniel” describes the reason why. “Assigning new names was a common court practice in the ancient world. It’s blatant intention was to change the entire identity of the bearer until the life matched the title. The new name marked new ownership and was meant to hail a new destiny.” Nebuchadnezzar hoped in changing their names they would abandon worship of their God and embrace his gods. It didn’t work out that way for Daniel and his friends, but they weren’t the only boys taken from Judah. They are the only ones who resisted and therefore they have an amazing story. If you look at children’s Bibles you see two of the most popular stories are “Daniel in the Lions Den” & the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. Daniel resisted the name change. Daniel resolved to remain unchanged.

Our second born is, Esther Elizabeth. When we think of those names we automatically hear “queen” in front of them both because of queen Esther in the Bible and queen Elizabeth of England. The name Esther means “Star” and peaked around 1900 and has since disappeared for the most part. We have a lot of people tell us, “Oh, that was my grandmother’s name!” When we introduced her our friend’s son he thought we said, “Buster” and it has been her nickname ever since. Biblical Esther’s real name was Hadassah and she was a Jewess who was taken into the Persian palace as a candidate to replace queen Vashti, who had been deposed (and possibly disposed of). Her cousin, Mordecai, forbid her to tell anyone of her nationality. The use of Esther instead of Hadassah kept her identity hidden. Eventually she reveals her real origins and saves her people from annihilation. It’s a name with an amazing heritage. I pray that my daughter will be that brave!

What happens when someone without good intentions tries to rename us or renames us unintentionally? The name Megan is easy to morph. Megasaurus, Megalopolis, Megaphone, etc . were the first nicknames I collected. It was frustrating. Having a boy singing, “Little tiny Megan with the big long nose” was embarrassing. Then when a boy in junior high school started calling me Toucan things really changed. Why do you think he chose that name? Because the Toucan has a giant colorful beak that sticks out too far to go unnoticed. Funny side note: I named my son Sam even though I came to loathe Toucan Sam.

In the midst of all this I found where a close relative wrote that her first impression of me when I was born was that I was “homely.” Tweaking my name was really more irritating than hurtful. Toucan & homely cut me to the quick. Why is that? Because it gave me an identity I wasn’t intended to have. It changed the name I called myself. I took those names and allowed myself to think they were my new identity. If it were to happen today I don’t think it would affect me that way, but I was in junior high and everything is epic to a junior high girl. I didn’t know I could resolve not to take on that new identity. In part I believe it is possible that, even though I resisted, after years of daily name calling I was just plain worn down. By the time I was in high school I took to hiding instead of resisting. The trouble is that it’s 30 something years later and I still can’t seem to shake those names. There is part of me who is stuck in that junior high girl’s wounded shoes.

My challenge over the past couple of years has been to get unstuck. The Lord started working on this scar and I’ve had to pick it off to treat the wound underneath. It hasn’t been easy and it’s not over yet, but it’s worth it. It’s scary to look at how much work there is to do. There are days I don’t want to continue the process. I just want it to be over. I want to be healed and free. There are days when I remember something that happened and I sob over the memories of that little girl who had insult added to injury constantly. But I am determined though to go forward instead of sitting in my past listening to those hurtful words over and over again. That’s where the enemy wants me. He wants me to sit in my hurt and let it continue to fester into resentment. I hear those words whispered to me. It’s a constant. “You’re ugly.” “You’re really not worth anything.” “Don’t try anything new because you will probably fail.” “Do you really want to be humiliated again?” “Haven’t you had enough embarrassment?” “Stay where you are and you won’t expose yourself to ridicule.”

There is a world of insecurity in me. Some of that is what Chip Dodd calls “toxic shame” in his book “The Voice of the Heart.” Shame says, “I made a mistake.” Toxic shame says, “I am a mistake.” Big difference. I am not a mistake. Everyone has a purpose. It’s the enemy’s goal to get you to die without fulfilling that purpose. It’s like being infertile. Our bodies as women are made for childbearing. When infertility strikes it’s abnormal. I’m not trying to be insensitive to infertile women here at all. Remember I was told in high school I was infertile. I lived with that “knowledge” for over 19 years. It wasn’t until I was 35 years old that I found out I wasn’t. Please understand I’m just using this as an analogy. When our bodies cannot do what they were designed to do it’s because something has happened in us that keeps us from what we were designed for. Sometimes doctors can fix it and sometimes they can’t. That’s what being stuck feels like. Something changed in me that made me too afraid to fulfill my purpose. I was not designed to be stuck. I’m trusting the Great Physician to fix this in me and I’m not going to take no for an answer.

There are a few verses that stand out to me as I move forward on my journey. Jeremiah 29:11-14 “ I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” It goes on to say that God banished them and carried them into captivity. This tells me that not only does He have a plan, but that His plan for me included what happened to me as a kid. Not only that, He required those things in His plan for my life. I don’t understand that, but I accept it. God is sovereign and so if I am His I can trust that His plan may not make much sense to me at the time, but He has my best in mind.

Another verse that means so much to me is in Joel 2:25 the Lord says, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”  I’m looking forward to the next years of my life knowing that He is going to give me those years back.


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