Not all cultures are like ours and the differences can be very interesting.  Choosing a newborn’s name is one example.  Did you know that in some African countries it is commonplace to name a child for the day they were born until the parents can agree on a name at a later date?  Some children never get a name replacement.  That’s why Bonnie and I met a man named Monday at a church in Oxford.  In America, we frequently name kids based on the sound of the name or its popularity.  My parents named me ‘Jared’ because they thought it would be unique.  For the record, I went to school with many Jareds.  Other parents name their kids after relatives.

Japan has a different approach.  There, parents name their children to reveal the future they want their child to have.  If they want the child to become a kind and social adult, they might name him Friend (or some similar Japanese equivalent).  So, you might find someone whose name would translate as Wisdom or Inventor or Tycoon, all based on what the parents desire for their children to become.  Growing up, a child’s name is their parent-given destiny, and the children feel a lot of pressure to live up to that name.  If Wisdom grows to be a fool, or if Friend is a recluse, then they have failed their parents and their destiny.  The term for such people is namaemake.  It means, “failing to live up to one’s name.”

In the Bible, we know that the Israelites frequently named their children to honor their family heritage (see the objection to calling the child John – Lk. 1:59-63).  We also know that children were given names with meaning.  For example, all of Jacob’s children were named based on what the parents were thinking at the time of birth (Gen. 30:1-24; 35:16-18).  But when God gives someone a name, it is similar to the Japanese practice.  God changed Abram’s name to ‘Abraham.’  Abraham means “father of a multitude” and the change reflected Abraham’s destiny.  God said that Jesus should be called ‘Immanuel’ because that means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).

The point is, when God gives a name, it has meaning.  

What if God gave you a name?  Not just a name, but a name with meaning?  Would you feel the pressure to live up to that meaning?

Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would “be called by a new name” (Is. 62:2).  That is exactly what happens in Acts 11:26 where the disciples were first called Christians.  What isn’t so obvious in most of our translations is the implication of the word “called.”  In almost every other place that word is used in the New Testament, the context reveals or the translators recognize that it is a heavenly calling.  In other words, the name Christian, is one that God gave us.  That name means a lot.  It is our destiny.  It is our duty.  We don’t want to be namaemake, after all.

In the coming articles we will look at the significance of being called Christian.