Tuesday, May 8, 2007

What's in a Name?

When I first went to Korea I ran into one of those cultural differences that tends to surprise. If you ask people in Korea their name, they will tell you their surname (family) name first and then their given name. It gets easy after a while but it does bring confusion when using your own name. Should I go with Korean custom and use my surname first? Especially with a name like mine where the last name can be a first name. What if they know my custom and want to make me feel comfortable so they do it the western way. Am I Grant David or am I David Grant?

Women in Korea do not change their surnames when they get married. They use their father’s surname all of their life. This shows respect to their patriarchal lineage. Funny, that in the west, when a woman refuses to change her surname at marriage, it tends to be a sign of independence.

I had two Korean boys staying with us when I came back from Korea 3 years ago. They were here to attend public school and get an English edumacation. Their middle name was the same but was written last, like a surname. The school assumed they were brothers. Names are supposed to help us identify ourselves and yet we ended up with some interesting cultural faux pas, when identifying them.

I did a rather strange thing a few years back when I changed my name from Gary to David. For $135 anyone can legally change their name. A fair bit of confusion came about with the changing of my name. Some of my friends would work really hard to remember to call me by my new name and sure enough as soon as they saw me, the old name would come out with a quick apology to follow. One of my friends simply refuses to make the adjustment. I even have a hard time retelling a story about myself from my Gary days. What do I call myself? Was this really worth the hassle? Yeah, it is.

It was easy for my kids to get my name right, but then again, they had changed my name quite a bit earlier. I used to go by the name daddy to them. But then Jamie changed it so that he could distinguish between me and all of the other daddy’s out there. In French the affectionate term is called “Pa” with a definite French pronunciation. I didn’t even realize that my name had changed till quite a bit after the fact.

A name really does give a sense of identity and belonging. I’m sure there are some people who might want a different family name due to cultural, linguistic changes. I have no idea how people might feel with surnames like Gay or Anus but I’m sure they are the ‘but’ of a few jokes.

When it comes to Christianity it seems everyone has to belong to a certain name. There are 39,000 denominations and 3,826,000 different congregations in the world. They all have a name to define who they are, but sometimes, even more importantly, to define who they are not. Sadly we tend to use those names like designer labels to define who is “really” in and those who are tending to miss out on some finer points of doctrine or methodology.

When people ask what church you attend, make sure you have a name handy, as that is one of the marks of being a Christian. Under no circumstances, ever tell people that you don’t belong to a name. They will think that you are either a slacker, rebellious or into some weirdo cult. On the upside, they will definitely be praying for you.

What did Paul think about this idea of naming the groups we are in?

1Cor 1:10 (NKJV) Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you, but [that] you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's [household], that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." 13 Is Christ divided?

I don’t know how we would not use a name to identify ourselves? I only know that when we identify with a name, Paul would ask this question,

“Is Christ divided?”

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