Should you change your name?

Have you ever wondered whether you should change your name?

Long ago, I thought names indicate religious faith or upbringing. The first computer I used was made by a Taiwanese company called Multitech. The name of its founder was Stan. I thought he was a Christian. I was wrong.

In Thailand and Indonesia, citizens are allowed to use only “Thai” or “Indonesian” names. Most Malaysian names aren’t allowed there.

In the 1990s, a colleague from Turkey celebrated because she’d been allowed to register her daughter’s name as “Venus.” This was a matter for celebration because “non-Turkish names” like Venus had been forbidden for decades. This was because after Kemal Ataturk became President in 1923, he compelled everyone to change their names to “Turkish” names.

Over the years, many governments have compelled the use of “national” names. However, people often use unofficial names – even Malaysian royals have adopted “Western” names while studying abroad.

The Bible records many examples of people who changed their names.

Sometimes God initiated the change. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and his wife Sarai’s name to Sarah (Genesis 17:5, 15). He changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28; 35:10). These name changes signalled a covenant, a commitment by God to direct and protect them as he used them to accomplish His goals.

Sometimes masters changed the names of their servants. King Nebuchadnezzar’s chief eunuch changed the names of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah – who had been trafficked from Jerusalem to serve the Babylonian King – to Beltashazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 1:7). These are “nationalization” name changes.

Sometimes the change of name signalled frustration. Ruth 1:20-21 tells us that when Naomi returned from Moab to Bethlehem, she asked to be called Mara, to signal the change in her circumstances:

“Do not call me Naomi; [a] call me Mara, [b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Footnotes a and b say Naomi means pleasant and Mara means bitter.

There are many more reasons, but I don’t have the space to go into them here. My point is that there can be good reasons to change your name. I want to focus on the name change in Isaiah 62:1-5, one of the lectionary readings for tomorrow, Sunday 16 January 2022.

The passage tells us that God thought the names “Forsaken” (Azubah) and “Desolate” (Shemamah) were once appropriate for Israel, but that he would change things so dramatically that Israel would be called by the new names “My Delight is in Her” (Hephzibah) and “Married” (Beulah).

Many nations change their names. Burma changed to Myanmar, East Pakistan to Bangladesh, Palestine – very, very controversially – to Israel.

But my purpose here is not to discuss the controversies around Israel. I want instead to focus on “Married,” and the adoption by women of the family names of their husbands. Those who like a scriptural warrant for everything (not me!) often point to Isaiah 4:1 which reads:

And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach.”

One of my colleagues in the USA didn’t wear a wedding band. I didn’t know she was married. So, I was surprised when I got an email announcing that she was reverting to her maiden name. I was not surprised that she had got a divorce. I was surprised that she, an ardent feminist since her teens, had once taken her husband’s name.

Another colleague was similarly feminist. She got married in her early fifties. I was shocked when she adopted her husband’s name. It seemed she wanted everyone to know she was no longer “on the shelf.” (She was a fiery person, so I didn’t ask her directly.)

God’s choice of the image of marriage signals his commitment to His people. It indicates concern and care.

Yet, godliness and prosperity are not always the circumstances of His people. Why? Because we live in a fallen world and one of the purposes of marriage is to form working, dedicated partnerships to change the world into one in which we care for our neighbours as much as we care for ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

It’s not surprising that the other lectionary readings for the day are about gifts in the church (1 Corinthians 12) and about marriage (John 2:1-11).

If you change your name, will you be a more effective servant? Will it help bring closer the day when our nation is Hephzibah or Beulah?

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