What's In a Name?

What’s in a name?
Historically, names meant a lot. Today, the “naming” industry makes tons of money selling books about naming your baby. Every year, the top 100 boy and girl names are released. Tabloids trip over themselves to figure out the names of celebrity babies.
Some people choose family names. Some choose popular names. Some choose creative names. But no matter what, we all have a name.
This past week I was working on a Bible study by Tony Evans titled It’s Not Too Late – How God Uses Less Than Perfect People. The lesson for the week was Jacob. Some of you know Jacob’s story, but for those who do not, here’s an abbreviated version of Genesis 25-29.

Jacob was born to Rebekah and Isaac. He had a twin brother, Esau, with whom he struggled even while in the womb and during the birthing process, Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as to stop him from being born first. Out of the womb, Jacob had some control issues. While Rebekah was pregnant, God had told her that her youngest son would be exalted over the older son. Totally opposite to what was custom in that day. The older son always got the biggest and best blessing. Jacob devised a plan one day to steal his brother’s blessing. Esau did not make the process very difficult for him because he was not a traditionalist – at least he did not think he was until it was too late. As Isaac, their daddy, lay on his deathbed, Rebekah and Jacob devised one last plan to dupe Isaac into believing that Jacob was Esau so Isaac could pass the blessing to Jacob before he died. The plan worked and Jacob received the blessing. Esau found out and let’s just say, he was not a happy camper and threatened to kill Jacob. Jacob had to flee for his life into the wilderness to go to a far away land to live with his Uncle Laban. While Jacob was there, he met a girl and wanted to marry her. He worked seven years for free in order to marry Rachel, his beloved. When it was time to receive Rachel as his wife, Laban pulled a trick over on Jacob and instead gave him Rachel’s sister, Leah, who was definitely not who Jacob wanted. So the trickster had been tricked himself.
Fast forward fourteen years and Jacob wanted to take his family, leave Laban and return home.  Jacob realized that God had blessed him while with Laban. He had wives, children and his fields were profitable. This was not only benefiting him, but Laban knew he was making profits from it too.  Laban’s family was accusing Jacob of stealing their wealth. The Lord told Jacob to return to his homeland. So Jacob and his family fled.
So the story could stop here. Jacob fled and returned home and every one lived happily ever after.
But remember, Esau, Jacob’s brother wanted to kill him for what he did. Esau got word that Jacob was returning home and so Esau assembled a group of 400 men. This homecoming was not to Jacob’s liking so he sent his family one way and his servants ahead to provide gifts to Esau.
With everyone gone, Jacob spent the night in the wilderness by himself. Jacob prayed and said, God, I know you promised to take care of me. Please protect me from my brother Esau (see Genesis 32:9-12).
That night, Jacob wrestled with a man all night long. Right before the breaking of the dawn, the man said to Jacob,
“What is your name?” Jacob replied, “Jacob.” “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then he blessed Jacob. (Genesis 32:26-30)
Why in the world did Jacob care what the guy’s name was? Did it matter? What purpose did it serve?
Getting back to the point of names. Jacob’s name meant “trickster.” He lived up to his name for sure during his younger years. But after being cheated, lied to, chased, wanted for dead, and totally alone wresting with God, he had grown wiser. The name Israel means “God fights.” God had to fight with, struggle with if you will, Jacob in order to completely break him, both spiritually and physically. Jacob was scared to death on that road to meet his brother and he was completely alone in the wilderness. He fought with that man for his life. And when Jacob wouldn’t give up until he received his full blessing, the man gave him his blessing. So now, Jacob would be called Israel. He fought with God and now God would fight for him.

Dr. Evans put this take on the “what’s your name question” a little more current. His paraphrase was “Jacob, if you are asking me my name, look at your name and you’ll know what my name is. And then ‘Bam!’ Jacob got the blessing.” Got that, Jacob?
Did simply changing his name change the person?
Definitely not.
God could not give Jacob his chosen name until God knew Jacob was completely ready and able to receive his blessing.
It did not happen overnight, but it did finally happen.
So back to the “what’s in a name” question.
One of the questions in the study this week talked about what I knew of my own name and my thoughts on it.
I struggled with this question at first. I thought to myself “who really cares what my name means.” Yes, it was a perfectly good Bible study mood to be in….not really.
I penned down some notes after the question. “Erin” means “peace” and according to my baby book, my mom gave me the name because I was born at the end of the Vietnam War, plus my dad was Irish. Sorry mom, but I hated my name growing up. Perhaps this is a phase little girls go through, but I totally wanted to change my name and not because I was someone famous. Most people spelled my name wrong, some still do. They spelled it “Aaron” and I would always have to say, “No, that’s the way boys spell it and clearly I am not a boy.” I even had a high school counselor call out my name during award ceremonies - with, gasp, the whole school watching - and he would pronounce it “Erwin.” Seriously, that was not good for an adolescent girl.
My name may mean “peace” but I rarely had it in my life. I was never quite secure in who I was. I struggled to fit in and to find a place to belong – as a child, a teen and even as an adult. I felt awkward about my weight and my looks, my abilities or lack thereof, choices I made, etc. I had an inner turmoil brewing always. So unlike Jacob, my name did not reflect who I was out of the womb. I was the complete opposite of peace.
God knows I struggled with Him in the past, but I was always willing to relent, cry “uncle” and walk away. I was not ready to hang on to Him for dear life. However, when I finally had the wrestling match of all wrestling matches with God, I, like Jacob, told God that I was not letting go. Yes, my surrender gave me the promised blessing of salvation but more importantly, I held on to God because I needed peace.
Did God need to change my name and give me a new name or did He just need me to finally grow into my name?
It has not been easy to watch God strip layers away, expose the raw hurt and emotions that were bottled inside or take away things that seemed important or hard earned. It has been a long process. A process that many have endured and are enduring.
I know that the peace that lives within me now, the peace that fills my innermost being is the peace that only comes from the Father and I believe that I am finally growing into my God-given, grown-up name.
I wrestled with God and we both won. He has me and I have Him.

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