What's in a name?

Did you know that in many cultures last names were assigned based on a person’s occupation?

If your last name is Smith, then someone in your ancestry was probably a blacksmith. If your last name is Miller, then someone in your ancestry probably operated a flour mill. If your last name is Napier, someone in your ancestry probably made table linens (napier… napkin…).

The significance of those names is largely lost to history, but what is not lost is the fact that the names we use go a long way toward shaping the way we see- and think about the world.

Addie and I chose to name our son Caleb Timothy largely because of the meaning (Caleb = faithful, bold; Timothy = honors God). Knowing the meaning of his name shapes the way we pray for him: it is our prayer that he would grow to be faithful and bold in honoring God.

Similarly, the names we use for God shape the way we think about who He is. Two people can both be talking about “God” but by no means be talking about the same god. Exploring the Bible for the way God’s people have talked about Him can be extremely helpful in filling out our understanding of who He is.

You can find a detailed list of Old Testament names of God here. These are a few of my favorites:

  • Jehovah Nissi - The Lord My Banner: God is the banner we march behind; He is our signifier and the reason for our hope (Exodus 17:15)

  • Jehovah Jireh - The Lord Will Provide: Just as God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice in Isaac’s place, so too does He provide for our every need (Genesis 22:14)

  • Jehovah Rapha - The Lord That Heals: as the giver and sustainer of life, God is the one who heals His people (Exodus 15:26)

Many of the names of God found in the Old Testament are proclaimed in direct response to something God has done. When God interacts with His people (by providing, by healing…), He reveals part of His identity (Provider, Healer…).

These names can also be a helpful tool for shaping the way we pray.

  • I pledge my allegiance to you, Jehovah Nissi, and I will follow wherever you go...

  • Jehovah Jireh, thank you for providing food for us today, as you do each and every day..

  • Please heal my body in the way that only you can, Jehovah Rapha...

I have found that knowing and proclaiming these names of God has helped me to be more in tune with the wide-ranging attributes of God, and having new language for talking to Him has been life-giving in my prayers. I encourage you to explore that list and find a new name to call our great God!

I love you, Church!

-Nathan Ehresman

PS, if your last name has an interesting origin story, I would love to hear it!