What’s the story of your name?

The Rev. Courtney Reid, preaching.

January 1, 2023
At a number of our recent parish events, 
we’ve asked those attending to introduce 
themselves by telling the story of their name - 
first name, last name - whatever part of their 
name has meaning or memory. 
The introductions and attendant stories are 
delightful with laughter, connection - enfolding us all. 
Family names, saints,celebrities, characters in beloved books, 
birth names, chosen names. 
Sometimes we love our names, 
other times we carry them around like burdens. 
Sometimes we change our names to match a new identity. 
Throughout history, those in power have often stripped 
away the names of those arriving on our shores- 
at Ellis Island when the names of the arriving
immigrants were too hard to understand and the 
enslavers who took away the names of those coming 
in chains from Africa, stripping them of their African names - 
names that told the story of their heritage, their tribe, 
their family. Our names can serve as part of our deepest 
sense of identity. Our names reveal things about us, 
they are part of our story.

At the opening day of her confirmation 
to the US Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s 
opening statement included this: 
“When I was born here in Washington, 
my parents were public school teachers, 
and to express both pride in their heritage 
and hope for the future, they gave me an African name; 
"Ketanji Onyika," which they were told means "lovely one."

As some of you may know, my given name is Mary Courtney, 
the name by which I was called until in first grade, 
when upon discovering there were six girls 
named Mary at my Catholic grade school, 
I decided to go just by Courtney. 
And for a while in jr high and high school, 
I would tell people I was named after Mary Magdalene, 
whom I believed to be a far more interesting and edgy woman.

What’s the story of your name?

The angel said to Mary 
“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, 
and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31)
“When the eighth day came, it was time to 
circumcise the child and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” 
(Luke 2:21)

The giving of names is important in Jewish culture, 
and it is still the case for many Jews that naming 
ceremonies occur on the eighth day for children. 
It was not uncommon for Jewish parents to name 
their children after family names. 
Those gathered with Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin) 
and Zechariah were surprised when those “old” 
parents didn’t name their baby Zechariah after 
his father but instead named him John 
as the angels had told them.
Mary and Joseph did not choose Jesus’s name, 
it was given to Mary by the angel, by divine command. 
Jesus, Savior, Deliverer. 
The name Jesus, means the Lord is Salvation, the Lord rescues and delivers. 

Today, we celebrate that name (a feast that hasn’t fallen on a Sunday in 6 years). Today, we celebrate the fact that God has again spoken his name to his people – and not just as a word, but as the Word made flesh, God with us. On the feast of the Holy Name, we hear the good news that Jesus took on every part of human experience - born into a family, a people, a language, and was given a name. And in the same announcement to the shepherds by the angel, we hear the good news that this child, Jesus, also carries the divine name - Savior, Son of God, Christ the Lord.

And as the prophet Isaiah foretold about the one we call Messiah, he is also named as Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God. When we baptize a child (like we will next Sunday at 9 and 11), we first ask the parents - name this child, and the parents proclaim the name of the child they are presenting for baptism. And as water is poured over the head of the child, we baptize that child (Emily Anne, John Charles, Elizabeth Jane) in the name of Jesus. Through our baptism we share the name of Jesus and are marked as Christ’s own forever. Baptism makes real what is already true - that at our very birth, we are named as God’s child, as heirs to God’s promise to all. And Because of Jesus, as people who carry the name, Christians, we have a new name, a new identity.

For the Church, on this first day of 2023, we are presented with the name of Jesus and asked to consider how it has shaped and continues to shape our own destiny as his followers and as his family. And while our given (or chosen) names tell part of our story, our heritage, it is the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was the Christ, that indicates our fundamental identity as God’s children.

May we enter this new year knowing ourselves as God’s beloved, a God who calls and knows us each by our name.