The boxes of raisins from the Sun-maid snack packs used to have little sayings on the inner flap: a little treat for whoever opened the box. When I was in high school, I happened to read one of these sayings, and it was so meaningful to me that I tore it off and kept it. It said:
Your name is your parents' gift to you. Live up to it.
There was something lovely and destiny-filled about this saying. Maybe I am the way I am because of my name. Granted, maybe I see myself that way because my name is the first thing I know about myself. And maybe I see others' personalities as "going with" their names because I've always known them with that name, and it just seems to fit them. But I truly believe that there's something in a name that says a lot about the person to whom it belongs, and I don't think it's a coincidence.
In adventure stories, sometimes main characters are renamed, given epithets that describe their role or deeds they have done. In The Lord of the Rings alone, the same character has many different names, including Strider and Elessar. Strider. He roams here and there. Elessar. He brings hope to his people. In the Bible (the ultimate adventure story, by the way), several specific individuals are renamed, to show a change in identity: Jacob to Israel. Abram to Abraham. Saul to Paul. Simon to Peter. Sarai to Sarah.
That's really what a name shows: identity. There's a book series I love in which characters who helped the enemy were stripped of their names. Their entire identity and personhood was removed. Without a name, we have no personhood. We have no identity. Without a name, we have no knowledge of who we are, because name defines us.
The "Sarah" name change is particularly important to me, seeing as that's my name. The name means "Princess." The original Sarah was the mother of all of God's chosen, the mother of the royal race -- a princess. I take pride in my name because it shows my identity: a daughter of God.
I think this is true of a lot of given names, coincidental as it may seem. My middle brother's name is Luke, which is Greek for "light". This name fits him so beautifully, because he is the light of our family. He makes us laugh and brings me more joy than I ever thought possible in a person. Our youngest brother's name is Cooper, the Old English term for "barrel maker". This one is kind of a strange meaning, but I think an unusual name fits his personality. He's unlike anyone I've ever met: so thoughtful and with such a unique perspective on things. Even our last name says something about our family. Baumgardner is the anglicized version of "Baumgartner", which is German for "tree-grower" -- and I come from a farming family, one that makes their living off the land.
Names matter because they point a little bit to who we are. The exact meaning may not represent us (barrel maker, anyone?), but they at least indicate. They say, "This is who I am." A name change might mean that we are someone different. Maybe it's important that we pay attention to the names we've been given. Maybe it's okay that these names shape who we are.
May we pay attention to the identity we've been given. May we live up to the good parts of our names. May we let them call us from what we are into who we have been made to be.