Readings for today (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, Mark 8:31-38).
In the reading from Genesis, God gives Sarai and Abram new names: Sarah and Abraham. In the Gospel for today, Jesus calls Peter Satan. This got me to thinking about names.
Names hold such power. I think the first place I really recognized the power of names was when I read Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea. In this fictional world, people go by their nicknames and don't tell anyone their real names, because that gives the other person power over them (it's a really awesome book; I highly recommend it).
Most parents I have talked to have said that one of the most difficult things they have ever had to do is pick out their children's names. If you stop to think about it, most of us have several names. There is your birth name, usually reserved for when you have misbehaved or when you have achieved something great, like graduation (if you were wondering, mine's Lara Christina, which means either "famous" or "cheerful" daughter of Christ, depending on which site you check). There are the names your family calls you (in my case, Punkin', Dirlie, Wawa, Rara, Lala--FYI some of those were because siblings could not pronounce my name). There are the names certain circles of friends call you (Sunshine, Shiner). Then, of course, there are names that people use to make fun of you (someone in 8th grade tried to make fun of me by calling me "moonshine" but it wasn't really effective--"Really? That's the best you could come up with?" Oh yeah, then there's the name we use for my mom when we're trying to get her attention. One time one of us kids was trying to get her attention and went through various names, "Mama! Mommy! Mother!" until finally they said "Nurse!" Well, my mom turned around at that and said, "I am not a nurse. I am a doctor." Now, every time we need to get her attention we just call out, "Nurse!"). Oh, and let's not forget pet names, one of my favorites. In Germany you call your sweetheart schatz, which means treasure. In France it's mon petite chou chou ("my little cabbage cabbage"). In the states I've heard people use many: sweetie, honey, darlin', muffin, gorgeous, love.
It makes a difference what people call you. Sometimes people misspell names (in my case, by adding a "u." One time my mom received a letter addressed to "Sufan." Her name is Susanne. The only explanation I can come up with is that they heard her name wrong or maybe they were listening to Sufjan while doing their work and subconsciously wrote it down--I don't know). Every time someone mispronounces my name (pronouncing it Lair-ah rather than Lah-rah) I cringe. That's not my name!!! The funniest name I've been called so far was when I was in the airport in El Salvador on my way back to the states. On the tickets they distinguished between males and females, so they put a Ms. after my name. Except that they didn't put a space in between my name and the Ms., so the officer saw my ticket and read, "Shee-nay, Larams." Not wanting to cause any problems, I smiled at the officer and said, "Yep, that's me!" So if you ever hear anyone call me Larams, that's where that comes from.
Then, of course, there are names that happen after transitions. My dad got to choose a saint name when he was confirmed in the Catholic church (he chose Timothy because it was the name of one of his friends. But also because when he added it to his name, James William, he could go by "Jim Bill Tim"). When people get married, they have to make the decision of whether to keep their own names, take their spouse's name, both take each other's names, hyphenate, or come up with a new one (i.e. Slane + Jianakoplos = Slaneakoplos).
I have some big changes coming up this year. Next month, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained a Transitional Deacon, at which point I will add the title "Reverend" to my name. Then, in the fall, God willing and the people consenting, I will be ordained a priest, at which point I have to decide if I want to be called "Mother" or "Pastor" or "Reverend" or something along those lines (my friend Christine, who graduated from VTS 2 years ago, is called "Father" by some people in her parish). I'm not quite sure what I want to be called, yet. Mother Lara? (I feel too young for that one) Reverend Shine? (too formal?) What I choose to go by potentially says something about who I think I am, and could make a difference in how people interact with me. It doesn't necessarily need to define me forever, though. Thank goodness I've got a little while longer to think about it!
What are your names? What names do you like? Which ones are embarrassing? Funny? Weird? Have you ever changed your name? Do people view you differently after the change?
*this is a reference to The Princess Bride, one of the all-time best movies. Ever. You should check it out if you haven't seen it!