On Naming Your Child
By Jeremy Hausotter
In this age there has been many cultural casualties due to the rise of secularism. One such casualty is our culture’s lack of awareness over the importance of naming our children. We do not think about it. We scroll through lists of names, popular and not, boy and girl names, until we find something we like. Unfortunately today, this everyday component of our lives likewise faces the forces of agendaization and trivialization.
Some people name their child to make a statement according to an agenda. We will restrict the term “agenda” to being value-neutral, for some agendas are in in harmony with value and others are conjoined with disvalue. Some agendas are good, others evil. It is a good for parents to select an ethnic name of one’s cultural milieu. This can be done for the sake of reversing cultural colonization and the preservation of culture. It can also be done as an act of defiance, rebellion, and revolution, introducing a kind of violence.
Others select gendered names for the purpose of confusing these names, to remove them of their gendered content. Some parents no doubt select an opposite gendered name without such intentions and only like the name and thought it appropriate. Yet others do such for the sake of making a complaint against the patriarchy or for the purposes of transgenderism to confuse the distinction between male and female. In each case, whether implicitly or explicitly willed, the gendered content is being sanded down for its removal.
Such tendencies express an overall agendaizing of a normal human event. What must be remembered is that when the parents name their child, it is a name not only for the child’s life, but an identity choice for that child which remains for eternity. Man has an immortal soul and so once the child’s name is selected, that name likewise shares in man’s immortality. That child is known to heaven and earth by the name his or her parents have chosen for him or her. It is hence a grave responsibility to name someone.
Naming in the Bible is always significant. Names have meanings and often reflect God’s blessings. The first woman was named “Eve” for she was the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). Hannah named her son “Samuel” which means either “name of God” or “God has heard”, for God indeed heard her prayers to conceive as she was barren (1 Sam. 1:20). Abram’s name was changed by God to “Abraham” meaning father of multitudes for this was when God made a covenant to Abraham that will be everlasting and he would have many descendants (Gen. 17:5). It is when Simon made his confession of faith that Jesus promised him the office of the papacy and changed his name to “Peter” meaning rock, for upon the rock of Peter Christ built his Church (Matt. 16:16-18). Names can also signify shameful events. Lot’s daughters named their sons “Moab” (meaning from the mother’s father) and “Ben-Ammi” (meaning son of my people) for both daughters had intercourse with their drunken father (Gen. 19:37-38).
All of these examples serve to illustrate the fact that, Biblically speaking, names signify something about the identity and whatness of the child. The name “Jesus” comes from “Joshua” meaning “the LORD is salvation”. In Exodus 3:14 God revealed His name YHWH which means “I am who am”. Names are supposed to describe something of the essence of who the person being named is like.
Names hence possess an element of sacredness. It is an identity and identification of the person through which he or she enters into relationship with God and the cosmos. The tendency to agendaize naming our children increases as we forget the original sacrality in naming children.
A second tendency that arises due to the secularization of naming is the process of trivialization. Some people treat naming as a joke or as a trivial affair. Hence why some have named their children “Ketchup”, “Apple”, “Moon Unit”, “Cyanide”, “Number 16 Bus Shelter”, and “Lucifer”. The last name of the vice principal from my old high school was “Carr”, and he named his son “Race”, i.e “Race Carr”. Some have named their child “ABCDE”.
Sometimes parents out of a zeal to name their child something to make them unique make up their own variations of a name, resulting in baffling spelling variations of the same pronounced names. Parents can even find alternative name spelling generators on the internet. While creative, such attempts are an agenda to pursue an unique name for the child that results in a trivialization to the process of naming conventions.
It is hence of no surprise that a third tendency arises, renaming. Some who are victims of agendaization and trivialization legally change their name. When renaming becomes abused, the misperception can appear that names are another thing which can be through out when it becomes disagreeable to the person. Names face the threat of being treated like a wad of paper to be used then thrown away or a change of clothes, something to be frequently changed.
This of course is different from the case of marriage. In marriage the wife changes her name to that of the husband’s as a recognition of the fact that the husband and wife have become one flesh. It is the recognition of a new identity between the man and woman as husband and wife. The renaming here has its foundation in the new ontological reality of the man and woman becoming married.
The abuse of renaming is also distinct from the case when one renames oneself because he or she was poorly named in the first place. If one were named something like “Ketchup”, it would be a good to become renamed for the original name is an injustice to the dignity of that human person.
Ultimately the problem of naming one’s child is a matter of justice. It is an injustice to give a child a bad name, or name the child as a joke or ill-motivated agenda, for in these cases the concern of the parents is not the consideration of what is rightly due to the child. Each child has a moral demand, that is a right, to a good name. The child is a human person who requires a name proper to his or her being. When the first man Adam named all of the animals in Genesis 2, he gave each species a name befitting of each’s kind of being and place in nature. In this same manner we as parents must also give our children a fitting name for we are naming human persons.
The account of Adam’s naming of the animals illustrates another important concept, namely, the act of naming is itself a prophetic function. Adam in naming the animals exercised his prophetic office. The naming of Samuel, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, etc. are all examples of the parents exercising their prophetic office. When parents name their children, they too are acting out a prophetic action.
Naming one’s child is hence a grave duty for parents to perform. Parents must remember that they are acting prophetically in fulfillment of a service to God. Giving a good name to a child is also an act of justice, something owed to all children as human persons. Each child in his or her dignity as a human person places this demand and obligation upon the parents. It is up to us to wisely exercise this important duty. Parents, you are naming your child for eternity. The weight of eternity is upon you.
Holy Family with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and John the Baptist by Palma Vecchio