I’ve heard there was talk when I was born that my mother wanted to name me Valerie. As I went through my early years fielding questions like, “Hey, Lois, where’s Superman?” I might have wished my mother’s choice had prevailed. I was, however, the only Lois I knew – not like some of the girls who shared their names with five or six other girls in my class at school. Whether I liked it or not, my name was Lois.
Today the Scripture readings celebrate John the Baptist, the “forerunner” of Jesus, the one who announced him to the world. The prophet Isaiah could have been speaking of John when he wrote, “The Lord called me from birth; from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. ‘You are my servant,’ he said to me.” (IS 49:1-6) You may remember that when John was actually born there was some dissension about what his name should be. Zachariah had been struck dumb when he was told his wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant since she was so old; he was to remain so until the baby was born. That message culminated in the instruction that the baby was to be called John. (Everyone thought he should be named after his father.) I can imagine Zachariah gesticulating wildly for something to write with to have his say. When someone got him a tablet, he simply wrote: “His name is John.” (LK: 1:57 ff)
Names are important. When someone I love says my name, it sounds different from the address of others. Children can tell when they’re in trouble for something by the way their parents call out their names. Some of us have secret names from childhood, shared only with imaginary friends. I remember in a conversation once being asked, “What is the name by which God calls you?” – surprising then, but something to ponder. I am grateful that now, as I have come to know myself, loving all of my life as a gift from God, I can respond wholeheartedly, “My name is Lois.”