Genesis 35:1-21, John 1:42                          “Naming”





“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” William Shakespeare wrote that line for his play Romeo and Juliet. Interestingly enough, he was trying to cover the fact that he plagiarized his tragic love story from the popular English translation of the Italian writer Luigi da Porto’s novella “Giulietta e Romeo.” Shakespeare did not even bother to change the name of the main characters! So, ironically, there DOES seem to be a lot in a name! The original audience for Romeo and Juliet were probably sniggering when that line was spoken. Shakespeare liked to borrow a lot from Bocaccio and Sir Francis Bacon as well!

Our scriptures for today also tell us the importance of a name. Throughout the Old Testament, that is the Hebrew scriptures, we have example after example of folks being named and renamed. Why is that? Why is the name Jacob not enough for Jacob? Why is he renamed to something completely unfamiliar in that time–Israel?

You see, as we may note from others whose lives are touched by God in the Bible, oftentimes there is a slight adaptation to the name. Abram becomes Abraham. Sara becomes Sarah, and so on. So, just add an “h” or a “j” to your name and that is making it so much more holier than before. We have played this game in Bible Club, adding these sounds to the children’s names. Try adding an extra “h” to your name right now. Have some fun with it.

What is happening when we do this is that we are adding a piece of the name of God into our own names. You all recall when Moses went up the mountain and spoke with God in the burning bush that Moses asked God by what name He should be known. God answered “I am that I am.” In Hebrew this is spelled out jot, het, wah, het. So, add the ‘het’ into your own name and you will be sharing part of your name with God! You will be taking in a part of God!

All said and done, however, this was not enough for Jacob. He did not just get a godly letter put into his name…God gave him a whole new name. Perhaps it was the name he was supposed to have gotten from the start. He should never have been called Jacob at all.

When I was younger, I rejected the name my parents gave me. I called myself “Otti.” Nobody knows where the name came from. Maybe, just maybe, I remembered the name that God gave me. Maybe, just maybe, when I get to heaven (assuming I get there), God will be there saying “Hey Otti! Glad you remembered the name I gave you! That is what we are calling you up here.”

Really, the reason we have a name at all is because we are loved by someone enough to care to give us a name. If your parents went through the trouble of naming you, then they must have loved you at least that much. You did not just grow up to become John Doe. And, if your name is John Doe–my apologies.

In Bible Study on Tuesday we were talking about the fact that we do not just name our children with names because we love them, but we also name our cars, plants, and other objects. David H. noted that his sledge hammer is called “hank.” When it is time to really hammer on something he says: “It is time for me to go get Hank.”


When we were talking about Creation in the old and new testaments, I noted that it is considered most holy to be creative in our own lives as God was. In Genesis, after Adam is created, he is given a very creative thing to do. Anybody remember? He is told to get to work naming all the plants and animals. From Genesis 1:19, “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” That is why we call the duck-billed platypus the duck-billed platypus. God gave us the task to do this naming thing and seemed to delight in hearing the names we would come with.

This raises another interesting question: How did Adam get his name? And, that answer is that Adam’s name is purely descriptive. Adamah in Hebrew simply means “red dirt.” This is a fine reminder to us today that we are just another part of God’s creation somewhat equal to dirt. When Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man,” that would have been “ben Adamah” of “Son of the Earth.”

I love the idea that we name things and have names really because God in heaven delights in hearing these names. How does God feel about science? I think God really loves science. All that science is in its basic form is coming up with names for what God has created. For example, scientists did not come up with the idea of nuclear fusion. That has been happening in the sun since God created light. Scientists have only come up with that cool name “fusion.” I think the name is cool.


            I really need to contrast and compare the old testament and the new testament in terms of naming. In the Old Testament, one was never allowed to even utter the name of God. This was considered to be blasphemy and was punished by stoning. One always had to be circumspect and call God by one of His titles such as “Almighty,” “King of the Universe,” or simply “my Lord.” God’s name was the name above all names that could not be spoken.

            In Genesis 3:13-14 we have the reportage of Moses up on the mountain speaking with God: “Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘ I AM WHO I AM’ And He Said tell this to the people, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” This again is the yot het wah het–the four letters in Hebrew that must never be spoken and is regularly replaced with the term “adonai,” “My Lord.”

            Now in the New Testament, where did Jesus get his name from? Can you recall the Christmas story? That is right in Luke 1 we read how the angel Gabriel came down from heaven and told Mary that her child would be called Jesus. Then, in Acts 4:12 Luke writes that Peter says “. . .there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

            Jesus is the name of God that we are able to call to directly in our lives. Jesus is the name above all names. Jesus is the “Great I AM” that was at the beginning of Creation and in the bush speaking to Moses. In fact, in the Gospel of John seven times Jesus calls himself the “I AM.” That can be your homework tonight: Find the seven times in John when Jesus says He is the I Am. If you have to, I will let you Google the answers!


            With the same transformative power of God that Jacob’s name is made to become Israel, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Cephas, or Peter. This happens with Saul on the road to Damascus when he meets Jesus, his name is changed to Paul. Jacob becomes a new man in God. Peter and Paul become reborn in Christ.


            I want us all to hear Jesus calling our names this morning. Hear him calling out to you, “You are loved! You are saved! Be with me in heaven!” Be transformed in this moment as Jacob was, as Peter was! Have your life changed by calling back upon the name of Jesus–the name of God by which we are all saved.