Sunday, March 8, 2009

How Important is Your Name?

Back in 2000, I chose to legally change my name to David. For those who knew me by my original name, it was difficult for them to make the switch. There was a reluctant desire to honor my wishes while at the same time struggling with the habit of using what they had known me as. They were actually very uncomfortable using my new name.

I even have a story about the misuse of my wife's name. I remember being quite embarrassed when I first started dating Terry. She was first introduced to me as Therese and yet on a bowling date, when I wrote her name that way, she corrected me and said it was Terry. How could I have been so stupid to have gotten her name wrong? Over the years it has always been somewhat embarrassing to me that even though I now know that her name really is Therese, that I can’t pronounce it accurately. My French is terrible and no matter how much I try I can’t seem to get the pronunciation quite right. I have defaulted to calling her Terry since it is just plain easier for us English folk. The truth be told she would rather be called Therese but with the right pronunciation.

As someone who has had a fair bit of exposure to diverse cultural names because of my job of teaching English as a Second Language, I have become even more aware of how we value our names. Some of my students actually choose, as my wife has done, to use an easier English name than their own personal name. It’s just too painful to hear their name pronounced poorly.

One of my Korean students from last year actually has fond memories of me as a teacher, not because I taught her so well, but because I was the only teacher that could pronounce her Korean name properly. I have another student that wanted me to use his real name. I had been mispronouncing it for some time and then, just last week, he came to me at the beginning of the class and in his very broken English, taught me to pronounce it properly. Every time I say his name now, a big smile comes on his face.

It seems our names are important and when they are forgotten or mispronounced we feel a little saddened.

The personal name of our creator is written YHWH in Hebrew and is pronounced Yahveh or Yahweh. I remember from my Hebrew classes that even though we are not 100% which one is the perfect pronunciation, the one pronunciation that it cannot be is Jehovah. Reducing YHWH to simply god or lord like the million other names that refer to others gods seems to miss the mark even more than simply mispronouncing it.

What is fascinating is that even though the personal name of our creator is Yahveh, Bible translators universally agreed to using the impersonal word LORD or God when translating YHWH. With the ease of fixing this poor translation because of advancements in technology, why have publishers not corrected this?

Why would we opt for an impersonal term like Lord or God when our creator’s personal name is used over 6,800 times in the Old Testament and 1,000 times in the New Testament? This literally makes His name no different than the myriads of other names that use the term god. It’s crazy that we have managed to commonly use statements like money is my god while at the same time having to use a meaningless statement like god is my god to refer to our heavenly father.

The third commandment states,
"You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Exodus 20:7

The first commandment actually says his name is Yahveh Elohim.
In Hebrew it is actually stated this way,
“I am Yahveh your Elohim, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” The Third Commandment states: “You shall not take the Name of Yahveh your Elohim in vain, for Yahveh will not leave him unpunished who takes His Name in vain.” Exodus 20: 2, 7.

Why have we chosen not to use it? Likely, you have simply been taught to use lord or god when referring to Him. You read your Bible and His name simply is there in spite the 6,800 that it is there in Hebrew. But once you know his name is Yahveh and you know he actually likes being referred to by his name, why would you continue to use the impersonal lord or god when referring to him?

The sad reality is that you would look like a kook amongst your Christian friends and they would think you have gone off the deep end. But is this a valid reason to ignore his wishes for the sake of the traditions of men?

If you were in another country, would you want someone calling you, Man or Woman, instead of using your name? How would you feel if they kept doing so once they knew your name? My kids can’t always refer to me as Pa when talking about me to someone else. But I would be very insulted if they chose to refer to me by something different than my own name.

Why would our heavenly Abba, Daddy, want to be referred to in the same impersonal way that all the supposed gods of this world are referred to, especially when he has clearly told us his personal name. Some will say that it is to make sure they don’t use his name in vain and are therefore afraid to say it. The third commandment does not say we can’t speak his name, simply that we aren’t to misuse it. If my children, were so afraid to call me Pa or Daddy, and called me Mr. Grant, I would feel that our relationship was weakened and not strengthened. On the other hand, when they were younger they tried the divide and conquer technique of lying between parents. They tried using my name and saying that I had said yes to some request, when their mother had asked them why they were doing something. In that case they needed to be very afraid of misusing my name.

I had to change my habit of mispronouncing a student’s name and friends have had to change how they referred to me simply because I asked them to. If we are willing to work at getting our friend's name right, why wouldn't we use the name that our creator wants us to know him by? The Hebrew scriptures tells us that his name is Yahveh. He would love you to use it.

No comments: