What’s In a Name?

Most tend to think of a name as merely an identifier. My name is Erin. Your name might be Susan, Joshua, Abigail, or something else. Names prevent us from having to refer to one another as “Hey, You.”

Perhaps you named your child Julie simply because you liked the sound of the name and it blended well with your surname. You likely gave little if any consideration to the actual meaning of the name Julie, which in its French origin, means “downy.”

Today, our names act as a label; a name is rarely chosen as a means of defining our individual character. In days long ago, however, names carried far more significance. In the Bible especially, one can see that names were far more than mere labels. According to S. Lewis Johnson, in the Bible, the concept of a name held the following importance:

  • The name was the person,
  • The name was the person revealed, and
  • The name was the person actively present.1

We see the noteworthiness of names emphasized throughout Scripture. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, even as He established an everlasting covenant with His servant:

Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
“No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)

God changed Abraham’s name because he was promised to become the “father of a multitude,” or of many nations. This new name reflected God’s promise to Abraham.

First Samuel 1 records the narrative of the birth of Samuel. His mother, Hannah, had been barren her entire life. Her prayer to God was that, if He would give her a son, she would commit him to the Lord’s service. This faithful servant prayed that God would remember her in her barrenness, and the Lord was faithful to answer that prayer.

Then they arose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned again to their house in Ramah. And Elkanah had relations with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. It came about in due time, after Hannah had conceived, that she gave birth to a son; and she named him Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked him of the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:19-20)

Says Dr. John MacArthur of these verses:

The name literally meant “name of God,” but sounded like “heard by God.” For Hannah, the assonance was most important, because God had heard her prayer.2

Similar importance is given to names in the New Testament, as evidenced when Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (John 1:42; cf. Matthew 16:13-20).

It is easy to observe, then, the significance that can cling to one’s name. Yet there is One whose name is above every other name in all the earth.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-23)

Jesus Christ was, in fact, named very deliberately and specifically:

She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

Yet Jesus is not His only name; He has many titles, and each one offers insight into the nature and character of the Lord of the universe.

There are certain names of Christ that rise to special prominence during the Christmas season. In the coming weeks, we will examine a few of these in order to better know the One who condescended to bring salvation to those who are His.

Come, let us adore Him by knowing Him more, for He is Christ, the Lord.

1. Johnson, S. Lewis, “The Child Who Is A Father.”
2. MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006. 372.

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