What's in a Name?
Long before Shakespeare made his famous statement through Juliet’s musings about roses smelling as sweetly, no matter the name, God gave us a much deeper perspective on names in His Word.
I’ve been contemplating this recently, as I read Isaiah 62, but in a greater sense, I’ve been reflecting on this for almost my entire life. To give you some background, my name is Ariel Marie Rainey. Because I’m the oldest, my parents had their deepest disagreements over baby names when my mother was pregnant the first time. She wanted “country club names” like Ashley and Nicole, and my father, a North Carolina hillbilly, wanted names like Cynthia Louise so I could be called “Cindy Lou.” Can you imagine? I’m sooooo NOT a Cindy Lou. Fortunately, this great divide of cultures and good taste was finally bridged when my father remembered an odd name he’d heard once, of a elderly Adventist preacher named Ariel. He suggested this unique name (remember in those days, Disney had yet to bring “The Little Mermaid” to worldwide recognition), and my mother, tired of arguing about it, finally conceded although with little grace, “If you can think of up a middle name to go with that, do what you want!” So my father came up with “Ariel Marie” and aqui estoy.
There are a few scant historical and literary references to the name Ariel, including the Bible, since Ariel is a masculine Hebrew name, however much the Disney version has given it a feminine grace. Ariel is the androgynous spirit in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it was also the name of one of the ships of the great American naval hero John Paul Jones. The meaning of the name Ariel is “Lion of God” and *that’s* what’s prompted my lifelong reflection on the power of names.
My parents didn’t know the history or the meaning of my name, and they certainly didn’t know I’d later live in Israel, where every time someone saw my ID with a masculine Jewish name and then my face, they’d look confused and ask, “Are you sure this is YOU?” Yes, very sure. But in any case, they weren’t envisioning a leonine spirit of a conqueror when they decided on a name for their child.
But all the same, it’s a name I’ve grown into. Maybe because God created me with a lion-like personality. Maybe I adopted the identity on my own, once I recognized the strong personality I was born with. Maybe others told me about my forceful nature so often that I took refuge in a greater destiny defined by a mythic animal with God-given power. I’m not sure why I attached so strongly to this meaning, but I know for sure that “Lion of God” isn’t a bad thing to aspire to.
The Bible is full of great examples of the significance of names, and interestingly, God has a pattern of changing those names, along with the identity of the bearer. From Abram to Abraham (Father of many), Jacob to Israel (God fights), Simon to Peter (Rock)--the Bible often uses these name changes to impart a shift in character or divine purpose, not just a new moniker.
Isaiah 62:2 says, “You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.” The book of Isaiah has this running theme, with multiple references to this idea, “You will be called,” A City of Righteousness, Repairer of Broken Walls, priests of the Lord, Sought After, No Longer Deserted, and Hephzibah (my delight)--these are just some of the prophetic references to the new names God has for his people. They represent a significant change in circumstances, in the future, or even in the way others would see them. No longer will you be (what you WERE), but now you will be called (how God sees you). That’s a beautiful thought, no matter what your actual name is.
While we don’t all get a literal new name when we come to Christ, we do get His character, His purpose and a new identity to grow into. He gives us a new name, no matter what we came with, and He calls us His. That’s all I really want to be.
*photo taken in Barcelona, Spain