What’s in a name? – the importance of the name in scripture and in our own lives

Naming of John the BaptistSr. Christina M. Neumann

As we read the Bible, at Mass or on our own, we might notice the importance of the “name.”  Often when an angel appears to someone to announce an important birth, he tells the mother/father-to-be what name should be given the child.  This is the case today when we read of the events leading to the birth of St. John the baptist.  (Actually, in today’s gospel we read of Zechariah naming his son, but it had been Gabriel who instructed him in this name choice.)  Also, when God called a person to special service, He sometimes changed their name (as in Jacob/Israel, Saul/Paul, and Simon/Peter).

This trend is often continued when one enters religious life.  In our community, when we enter the novitiate, we either maintain our baptismal name as our name in religious life or are given a new one.  Customarily, we are able to offer three suggestions. We always take Mary or Marie as part of our religious name.

When I was preparing for novitiate, the local pastor liked to threaten me that he wanted to give me a difficult, tongue-twisting German name like “Gertentrudis” or something.  I am grateful that I was able to keep my baptismal name of “Christina” rather than acquire a name after that fashion.

One of our Sisters, Sr. Sara Marie, celebrates her “Name day” today; I had hoped she might share the story of her religious name and the connection made between the Old Testament matriarch, Sarah and St. John the Baptist, whose feast we honor today.  However, since that was not possible, I will share a little history of my own name.  Growing up, each family member had a plaque on the wall with our name, its meaning/translation, and a scripture verse.  Mine, “Christina,” had the subtitle of “follower of Christ” denoting its meaning.  What a name to live up to!

We are all Christians, “followers of Christ.”  This is a call to each of us every day; we want to live up to this challenging, humbling call.  In order to do this, let us pray in the words of the psalm given on my name plaque: “Lead me, O Lord in thy righteousness; may my way straight before me.”

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