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Reflections: What’s in a name?

It’s always fun to see current lists of names parents are choosing for newborns. According to two articles lately in “The New York Post,” television and popular music influences many name choices, giving new impetus to Robin, Maxine, Elle, Mike, Billie, Jolene and Cosmo.

But, conversely, some of the more popular names this year seem to be fading: Olivia, Emma, Liam and Noah. Angela, Kobe, Kimberley and Alexa have been fading for several years, according to “The Post.” But several names are gaining ground, including Arthur, Freddie, Archie, Isaac and Halston. The two names winning the number one spot in popularity are Lily and Muhammad.

My dad had one of the most interesting names ever: Orris. I don’t know why I never asked my grandmother how she came up with this name after choosing Austin, Joe Benny, Elbert and Billy. One speculation I have is that she named my dad after her brother Horace. I’m not even sure how my parents chose Michael for me, although my middle name came from my mother’s brother, John Wesley Pettyjohn.

We’ve been walking through the book of Genesis in our church for several months, and I’ve been impressed with many of the old stories we learned as children, and how many of them feature name changes.

Abraham and Sarah waited 25 years for the promised heir, and God changed their names. Isaac and Rebekah waited 20 years for their son before God gave them twins. They named their boys “Hairy” and “Cheater”! Jacob, the cheater, had unique experiences with the Lord and God changed his name to Israel, which means “the prince of God.” Similarly, Saul the persecutor of the church had his name changed to Paul after his experience with Christ.

The most profound name change in scripture is in the New Testament book of Acts. Antioch became the first non-Jewish church, and an exemplary church is many ways. It was in that place the followers of Christ first were called Christians. It’s widely believed that the name was given in derision by critics since it means “little Christs.” But in a larger sense the name symbolizes the goal of every Christian life—to be like Christ.

God is good to have given mentors in every stage of our lives who demonstrated great character and influenced us positively. We all bear fingerprints on our souls from those who invested their lives in ours over the years. But the greatest model we have is Christ. He lived a life committed to God and promises to partner with us so that we do, too.

Being called by his name, Christian, is surely the greatest motivation we have to strive for a life of integrity.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church, Alabaster, Alabama. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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