In this morning’s first lectionary reading from the Book of Genesis, chapter 17, we have a continuation of God’s conversation with Abram, now known as Abraham, about his wife Sarai, now to be called Sarah because she was to be blessed with a child in her old age – surely a direct result of God’s favor. Those seem hardly noticeable changes, but changes nevertheless. We add or change our names also at certain junctures for different reasons, most commonly in marriage (now often by hyphenation rather than leaving a birth name connection behind) and religiously in the Christian sacrament of Confirmation where our new, additional name should honor a person or signify a character of holiness that we wish to achieve.
I was always happy with my name in one sense; I was always the only Lois in my class at school and it was rare to meet someone else so named. That was easier than trying to figure out which Mary or Maureen or Michael was the subject of conversation. It was only in my high school Math class that I jumped every once in awhile, thinking I had been called on, when the truth was that the teacher was talking about the “lowest common denominator.” (Say that phrase aloud quickly and you may see what I mean.)
On the other hand, I grew up with lots of references to being Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane, which wasn’t so bad, I guess, but would have been better if I really had access to the favors of such a hero. More concerning was the question of my “patron saint.” All Catholic children had to have a name derived from that of a recognized saint of the Church so my patron, I was told, had to be St. Louis (King Louis IX of France) or St. Louise de Marillac, founder of the Daughters of Charity, a religious community of nuns in the 16th century. Since my name was not Louis or Louise, I chose always to remind people that my middle name was Ann – mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus, which was okay but not easily evident and required explanation. Imagine my joy and surprise when I began to read the Bible and realized that the second Letter of Paul to Timothy spoke of Timothy’s “mother Eunice and grandmother Lois.” What a relief!
All of this babble is only half of the point I wish to make this morning. My first thought was to focus on the importance of our names and whether or not we “inhabit” them. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with “Lois” although when spoken by someone who loved me it always sounded better. As I have grown into and accepted more and more the person whose name is Lois, I am more content. I do wonder about the son that was born to Abraham and Sarah in fulfillment of God’s promise, however. How would you feel if your name meant “he laughs” which was Abraham’s reaction to God’s prediction. Unless Isaac could turn the meaning around and become a happy-go-lucky person (quite hard work if we believe the chronicles of his life), I think he must’ve struggled a bit!
What about you? Do you know the genesis of your name? Is it special to you? Have you grown into it gradually or always been comfortable? Do you have a special, secret name by which you hear God or special people call you? What name would you choose if you were given the opportunity, and why? Today I plan to listen for God saying my name in the silence. Hearing that call could be more precious than gold.