Has anyone ever asked you to ‘pass the Solanum caule inermi herbaceo, foliis pinnatis incisis’? It might be a while before they were able to fork the tomato they wanted onto their burger. Apparently, five hundred years ago, this was the name Europeans used for the vegetable (or is it a fruit?). Thankfully, it was eventually shortened to Poma amoris, and is now known as the tomato. That’s easier on the tongue.
Names are our way of identifying things by their characteristics. They are a verbal tag attached to a mental picture we pull up when we think of that name. But sometimes that tag isn’t entirely accurate, memorable, or convenient. For that reason, some famous people have changed their names. Do you remember Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu? She is perhaps better known as Mother Theresa. Or how about Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvilli? That’s Joseph Stalin. See why they changed their names?
It’s interesting how God is in the habit of renaming people too. Abram (‘exalted father’) becomes Abraham (‘father of many’). The Hebrew patriarch Jacob (‘supplanter, heel-grasper’) is renamed Israel (‘prevails with God’). The disciple Simon (‘he has heard’) becomes Peter (‘stone’). It’s as if God wants people to know something about themselves that He already knows. He wants to change the way they define themselves because He sees so much more than they do. When God plans to work in the lives of individuals, names change, characters change, destinies change.
In a powerful moment prophesying the church age, Jesus has a conversation with his disciple, Simon Peter. He asks him what he has heard (notice the allusion to the meaning of the name Simon). Then abruptly, almost interrupting the answer, Jesus queries, “Who do you say I am?” When the disciple applies to Jesus the titles of “the Messiah” and “the Son of the living God”, Jesus commends him. He says, you have heard this, Simon the hearer, not from men but from God the Father. The influence of others must take a back seat to what you hear from God. Now it’s time for you to have a new name. I am the Rock of Ages; you will be called Peter, a stone. I am Christ; you will lead the way for those who will be called Christians. I am about to overcome Hades; you and countless others will benefit by accessing the kingdom of heaven.
Here’s where people like you and me come in. We are ordinary folk. We have not only the names given us by our parents but also names we call ourselves, names we perceive others call us: ‘handsome’ – ‘plain’, ‘powerful’ – ‘weak’, ‘successful’ – ‘failing’, ‘remarkable’ – ‘insignificant’. The list goes on. You know the names you call yourself, and I know mine. I’m guessing we tend to believe the latter rather than the former of each pair. We fear the name fits and we cannot escape it. Or in those moments when we believe the more favourable ones, our arrogance gets us into trouble.
Take heart. God is bent on expressing his creativity in us. He, the Rock of Ages sees us as chips off the old block, as pebbles through which He wants to build something magnificent. Listen to what He says.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give … a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it” (Rev. 2:17)
A new name. The One who knows me better than I know myself, has given His life to redeem mine, has great things in store for me and has a new name for me. Good-bye mistaken identities. Farewell false persona. Hello authentic epithet. The promise to overcome the old and embrace the new is just what I need. How about you?