I can remember the speech given at my high school graduation. Can you? I typically find that I’m a rarity in remembering anything about my graduation ceremony, much less the speech given to the graduates. But for some reason, the message given to me and my classmates that day still resonates with me today, and that message is: There is power in a name.
The pastor who spoke to us had personal proof to back up his point. His name was Calvin. If you saw him, you’d likely need no more details. But for most who have never met Pastor Cal, you should know he was completely, and utterly, bald. Not even “shaves the parts of his head that still have a little hair bald”, but shiny-mirror-head bald. The meaning of the name “Calvin”? “Little bald one.”1
We see the power of names in the Bible. When God worked or moved in major ways in people’s lives, he often changed their names to reflect his work. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Simon became Peter. Jacob became Israel. And it’s not only people’s name changes that were important, but often places gained special significance through the change or giving of a name. Luz became “Bethel” after Jacob received a dream from the Lord (Genesis 10-22). In Exodus, the place in the desert where water first came from a rock was named “Massah” and “Meribah” by Moses (Exodus 17:7)2.
“The truth is, a new name changes the lens through which the content is perceived and taught.”
As a Christian educator, this idea of ‘the power of a name’ is on my mind a lot. One of my favorite facets of the Teaching for Transformation 3 framework is that we Reframe and Rename aspects of our work. This happens when we take a lesson or unit that we’ve taught before, but after some reflection, give it a different and more intentional, meaningful name.
You may be wondering how the simple name of a unit can possibly make any sort of difference. The truth is, a new name changes the lens through which the content is perceived and taught. In my own experience, simply renaming my 7th grade “Jazz Music Unit” to “Jazz: Making a Joyful Noise” (based on Psalm 150) completely changed how my students and I interacted with the art form of jazz. This new name reframed the study of jazz as something to be discovered as God’s inspiration, creation, and avenue of worship. This was a totally different invitation for students to see their learning as part of God’s story.
The idea of Reframing and Renaming can be taken into any area of our work as Christians. Are we conducting an ‘in-service’ day or a day of ‘professional learning and collaboration’? Are we hiring substitute teachers or ‘guest teachers’? What job titles have we given to our employees—do they reflect their work and value? What about business events, open houses, conferences, or celebrations? How could giving these events new names actually help us reframe them in a new way, and maybe even make them more powerful, meaningful, and intentionally pointing to God’s story?
“The idea of Reframing and Renaming can be taken into any area of our work as Christians.”
Growing up, I always wished my name had more significance. I have no special story about being named after a great-grandmother or special relative. I am not named after a Biblical or historical figure. In fact, my parents had a list of a few possible girl names–and my given name wasn’t even on it. As the story goes, upon my birth, my mom loved the name ‘Jessica’ not for any specific reason, but just because she thought it was really original and she didn’t know anyone else with that name.4
After graduation, I researched my name, discovering that it means “God beholds”, or “wealthy”5. Learning this about my name gave it a little bit more meaning for me – it reframed the way I think about my name. My name went from having little significance to being a reminder that God sees me, and that I live each day in the wealth of His rich blessings. Next time you are looking to give any facet of your work and life more intention or meaning, don’t underestimate the power a great name can provide.
New International Version Bible. (1984). International Bible Society. (Original work published in 1973). ↩
Teaching for Transformation is a program of CACE (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education), a project of Dordt University. ↩
Apparently, a lot of moms were thinking the same thing for the bountiful amount of girls named Jessica and born in the 80’s. ↩
Renaming to reframe doesn’t always work. A cat we inherited once had been named “Fang”, and he lived up to it – biting visitors and fighting other cats. Our attempt to re-name him Barish (“peace”) didn’t make any difference, and we soon had to revert to Fang.