Lately I’ve been noticing names and their meanings. Maybe it’s because I have friends who are preggo and, feeling the pressure, periodically ask for input on that all-important question—What are we going to name our child if it’s a boy … or a girl?
My answer is always the same—Pat.
After a laugh we then shift to the far more serious issue of ensuring that whatever names are up for consideration don’t rhyme with anything that will cause unnecessary emotional pain on the elementary-school playground. And even if we find a “safe” name, there’s still the question of what the name means.
I recently decided to focus my energy toward names and their meanings on something that will result more in growth than giggles—like the meanings of names in the Bible. In that process I’ve discovered just how personal God is to us, and it’s added texture and depth to passages I’ve read dozens of times.
Sometimes the meaning highlights an inherent quality in a person’s personality, story, or appearance. Take Hannah, which means “grace,” or Zilpah, which translates as “dignity.”
Other times a person’s name reveals something about a particular situation. Shemamah, for example, means “desolate.” And still other names reveal something about a person’s character or relationship with God. (King David’s name means “beloved.”) These details make the men and women of the Bible seem all the more real to me.
Now and then I reflect on my own name, Margaret, which means “pearl.” Pearls are delicate, and their beauty comes through adversity. Something gritty and uncomfortable becomes a thing both beautiful and strong. That reality has played out in my own life. In my most challenging moments, God reminds me that He’s at work to slowly and subtly shape me into the being He has created me to be—a reflection of His glory.
Sometimes that’s easy to forget, though. In those uncomfortable moments when I grow discouraged or frustrated, I find myself asking God, “Why me? … Why now? … Why this?”
I want life to move forward smoothly, even effortlessly. So when life’s bumps, rifts, and ripples inevitably appear, I tend to grow frustrated first and faithful only later. In the moment all I feel is the rub of what presses against me—physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. Desperately I want out, forgetting that in tension something unique is taking place—something that will make me stronger, better, more beautiful.
Rough edges smooth. Unbecoming attitudes tame. Inappropriate reactions reshape.
And without even realizing it, subtle shifts result in profound change. Like the pearl, I begin to reflect just a little more of my Creator—and it’s not because my name is Margaret.
I think as God comes alive in our hearts, we’re all meant to look a little more like Him each day. The path of being a Christian—a name that means “little Christ”—is not a smooth or easy journey. But in the process some things happen within us that couldn’t happen any other way.
So what’s in a name? More specifically, what’s in your name? Those are questions worth asking. The answers may not come as easily as we’d like, but in the process of listening, we just may learn a lot about ourselves—and who we were created to be.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in CS magazine.