By Any Other Name 1

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

One of my favourite websites for exploring the meaning of names offers this definition of what a name is: ‘Generally a name is a label for a noun – a person, place or thing. More specifically a name is a label for a specific person, place or thing.’

Oh, really? Just a label?  Surely not!

It seems this very popular site would agree with Shakespeare’s famous assessment about the rose and the sweetness of its perfume: That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet. Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Now I disagree with both the Bard and the website. Instead I hold to Hubert Humphrey’s view: In real life, unlike in Shakespeare, the sweetness of the rose depends upon the name it bears. Things are not only what they are. They are, in very important respects, what they seem to be.

Indeed, I agree with David Patterson who, in Hebrew Language and Jewish Thought, writes of the ancient view that our name comes from the breath of God. It is His exhaling which we inhale. When God forms us, He takes a portion of Himself, an element of His own Name, and creates a soul by uttering its name. It is therefore said, when parents name their children, they are given a moment of prophetic insight into the names God breathed into the children’s souls.

So it is that names are not labels but rather mysterious and intricate vehicles to carry both identity and destiny. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful. My soul knows that very well. (Psalm 139:14 HNV)

As we breathe our names in and out, with their constant whisper ‘Who am I?’, we may hear at times a ‘still, small voice’ answering us back. And if we listen closely, we may come to know our place in the will of God is one and the same as our place in His Name.

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