In the biblical times, a person’s name described identity — family background and lineage, family dwelling place, parental hope or sorrow for the child, some event impacting the child, religious affiliation and so on. A common question was ‘who’s your father?’  One’s name established his or her inheritance rights, royal succession and lineage. Sometimes a person’s name changed when an experience or circumstance produced a new character. Jesus renamed Simon to Cephas, a stone (John 1:41-42).

These same factors might influence the naming of a child in modern times. As a case in point, Americans in the fifties displayed great hope and expectation for the future. Movie stars and political figures played a prominent role in the US cultural scene. Societal trends often influenced the naming process and selection. The Social Security Administration (SSA) rank order names on the basis of social security number applications for births. According to the SSA parents chose James, Michael, Robert, John, and David as the five most common names for male babies; and Mary, Linda, Patricia, Susan, Deborah, and Barbara for female. You see first names that show celebrity status of the day.

Curious to know latest in baby names, I searched online for the top baby names from 2011. After reviewing four sites, I learned that Sophia, Emma, Isabella and Charlotte were the most frequent infant female names; while Aiden, Jackson, Mason and Noah showed a high occurrence for males. The 2010 Social Security Association rank order of baby names showed female names of Isabella, Sophia and Emma and male names of Jacob, Ethan and Michael. I changed the search a bit and looked for “top African-American baby names 2011.” On one website I found Beyonce, Jayla, Ayana for girls and Demarco, Dion and Chikae for boys (elev8.com, 2011). Then, I decided to find top Hispanic baby names from that same year. Babycenter.com cited Sofía, Isabella and Camila among the most frequent three names for girls and Santiago, Sebastián and Matías for boys (www.latina.com). On one of the sites I read a comment referring to the need for parents to use American names for their babies. What is an American baby name? Needless to say, I continued my research only to wonder about the different cultural nuances associated with baby names.

Those people surrounding a person often shape the meaning behind one’s name during maturation, whether negative or positive. When I was in elementary school, I felt my shirt had an invisible ‘T’ on it—‘T’ for troublemaker. My earliest recollection of school is sitting directly in front of the teacher. I would dread report card conferences because my mother would inevitable return home with the comment that I could do better in my studies. Teachers described me as distracted, lazy or talker.  While I sometimes took a stroll across the room to look out the window or walked over to friends in other desks, the fact was that I was curious about everything going on around me. After awhile, I internalized teacher descriptors to slow or failure. Not unlike many people, another’s perspective influenced my self-image.  I don’t need to mention that name calling can get quite ugly and damaging.  “Innocent” playground names present serious repercussions. Some people feel its effect over the course of their lifetime.

Now, I want to take a different turn for a moment and go to a different type of name, one of denomination. When I grew up in Chicago’s southwest side in the fifties through seventies, people referred to their communities according to its corresponding Catholic parish. This was an accepted practice of identifying where you live. There was a different side to religious connotation that was kept inside your home, all very private. In some households Catholics and Protestants could play together and later date each other, but parents frowned upon inter-religious marriage. They labeled this union as doomed. My generation pushed past denominational labels, but not without challenge and conflict. I also heard the unmentionable, very derogatory names for people of different race, background and ethnicity.  An impressionable young girl still recalls people saying very harsh remarks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he marched through Marquette Park.  As children mature, they internalize and carry what adults say. Speed fast forward to contemporary times and one hears subtle or obvious messages associated with the names. The act of name calling still is common place.

So, let’s talk about names from a biblical perspective. The Bible says in 2 Cor 5:17 that “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (KJV).  After being born again in the late seventies, I now call myself chosen; one of God’s set apart people. I am the daughter of the King. Harry Blamires refers to the Christian mind as having a heaven-bound trajectory that “cultivates the eternal perspective,” and “looks beyond this life to another one.”  Yes, I’m fine with this view on life. So, allow me to add to my name building on the future. I am an heiress to the promise of eternity through the seed of Abraham. My name is victorious. That’s who I am.

Who are you? What does your name mean?