The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

“What's in a name?” asks Juliet, opining “That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet."[1] 

Love besotted Juliet struggles to overcome the difficulties found in the differences between her name and Romeo’s. Capulet and Montague are names provoking in each another an enmity so strong that blood is shed, and that difficulty causes Juliet to wonder if a name is utterly essential to the nature of someone/-thing. Antedating a similar feud between Anderson Hatfield and Randolph McCoy and their families by about 300 years, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet points us toward the vital importance of names. Despite her wistful musings, Juliet is naïve to think that simply by an act of her will she can diminish the power and strength of her name or Romeo’s.

[1] Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II,ii,1-2

We are taught from a very young age to shrug off epithets and mockeries because they hurt; we start early because children’s cruelty in taunting one another can be positively awful. Juliet’s hopes notwithstanding, we know that sticks and stones do break bones, and words most definitely can and will harm us. Words matter, and words that are names really matter. It matters so much that a child born in a public hospital by law may not leave the hospital without two things- a car seat and a name. The Fourth Commandment addresses misuse of God’s Name. It’s that important. 

Names confer honor and affection. Names can set unrealistic or skewed expectations for those who bear them. Names can be a burden for some. All of these possibilities are magnified when you’re named for someone. I know from personal experience what it means to carry ancestors’ names, and while I can testify that I am grateful past full expression to be the third man named Frank Crumbaugh, I know that there are many for whom their name is as much a burden as I find mine a comfort and honor. Our Jewish cousins avoid these potential difficulties by not naming any member of a family for any other living member of the family. Names are not to be conferred “…unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately.”[1]  I have never understood giving a name just because it sounds nice, or the giver of the name thinks it’s cute or fashionable. It is the principal word by which a human being will be known for an entire lifetime; deriving and conferring such a word requires gravity and due attention. 

In the last national election, a 45 year old person named Zephyr Rain Teachout ran in New York’s 19th Congressional district. Set aside her unusual family name and concentrate on her given names. I suppose if her parents had been meteorologists, her name might make sense as a bizarrely self-referent bad joke, but they’re not. They’re both lawyers, as is their daughter, and their names are Peter and Mary. I hope there’s a charming, deeply meaningful story- something more than mere flippancy- behind this name; the fact that I use it as an example suggests that, from my distanced perspective at least, they did her no favors by giving this name. I imagine that every time she is introduced to someone, Ms. Teachout is asked about her name- a conversation interjected on the first day of her life into every subsequent day of her life by parents who do not have to have those conversations but who by their actions insist that she will….dear God, don’t we hope that name was worth it!?  Johnny Cash’s ballad A Boy Named Sue comes to mind. 

Names matter. In the second Creation story, we hear that “the Lord God formed every animal 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. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field.”[2] Things were not fully and finally created until they had names, and God ceded the privilege to give that full and final reality- naming them- to the human being. It’s that important. We value our reputations, and the shorthand we use is our “good name.” It matters to us that our good name is maintained, and most of us do not lightly give our good name to causes or institutions. 

When the angel announces that His Son is coming, the angel conveys the news of His coming, and the news that God has already named this particular human being. God names the Savior Jesus- an Aramaic rendering of the Hebrew ‫יֵשׁוּעַ‎ “Yeshua,” translated in English as “Yahweh is salvation.” More often, however, we hear it dynamically translated as “He will deliver His people” – the translator in such cases doing our thinking for us. The source and meaning of The Holy Name is clear. It makes sense. When God’s Incarnate Son is named, it is God who names Him, and the name refers to the source of Jesus ‘ life- His heavenly Father- and the blessed importance of His coming among us. 

The Church keeps 1 January as The Feast of The Holy Name acknowledging the power, authority and import of this name. Holy Name is a major feast, and when it falls of a Sunday as it does this year, it takes precedence over The First Sunday after Christmas Day. We conclude our prayers very often “In His name,” or “In Jesus’ name.” Our prayers matter, and invoking them using the Holy Name says just how much they matter. Thank God for the Son, who, being a person, required a Name- so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[3] 

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 1 January 2017, being The Feast of The Holy Name


[1] The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 423

[2] Genesis 2:19-20a, NRSV

[3] Philippians 2:10-11, NRSV

1 January  The Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ

© 2016 Frank B Crumbaugh III