My husband has a gift of remembering names and faces. He can often even recall where he met someone and through whom he met them. It’s a superpower that I do not possess.
In my current role as the denominational minister, I encounter so many new names throughout the day — through emails and phone conversations. I write each person’s name down, I jot notes about our conversation and concentrate, willing myself to remember this person’s name. But I fail more than I succeed.
Although I struggle with names, I know their importance. It is through the exchange of names that we first reveal insight into who we are with one another, and in that exchange, we begin a relationship. God exemplified this beautifully in journeying with the Israelites over centuries. God is Elohim the Mighty One, Yahweh the Lord, El Roi the God Who Sees, El Shaddai the God Almighty, Yahweh Yireh the God who will Provide, Jehovah Rapha the Healer, Yahweh Shalom the Lord is Peace, and so much more.
There is power in naming and being named.
In the scriptures, we often see transformative encounters with God that result in being renamed. After their encounters with God, Abram is renamed as Abraham, Sarai as Sarah, Jacob as Israel. And in the New Testament, Simon becomes Peter and Saul becomes Paul. Throughout the Bible, we encounter person after person who experiences deeper intimacy with God and a greater awareness of their purpose in this world through the act of being named.
We also share this power of naming with God. It is a sacred gift and responsibility that God grants to human beings. In Genesis, the Creator gives humans the creative task of naming creation. And today, we experience the power of naming when a baby enters a family. In traditional Korean culture, people go to a respected Namer to choose the most blessed name for the child.
The Korean name that my parents chose for me is Sung Hee. In Chinese characters, Sung means bright, and Hee means beam of light. The hope that my parents had for me was that I would be a bright beam of light. I think it’s beautiful and I claim it. My aunt gave me the American name Sue, short for Susan, which means lily. I like the imagery of the bright beam of light shining on a lily and I embrace this intercultural identity.
We begin to know one another and are known as we reveal our names to each another.
In sharing our names, we offer others a window into the history, tradition, beauty and blessing that has been passed down and that shapes us.
In a multi-cultural society like the United States, we must take time to learn each other’s names. Some names are more unfamiliar than others, so they are harder to pronounce and remember. I have often observed that when I don’t remember a person’s name, I tend to avoid them. I feel embarrassed for forgetting and don’t want to ask again. As a result, I gravitate towards people whose names I remember and inadvertently avoid those whose names I have forgotten.
But what would happen if we courageously moved towards those whose name we’ve forgotten? What if we vulnerably asked for forgiveness and inquired about their name again? This communicates to someone that we want to know them, their stories, the blessings that come in the meaning of their name. We will fail and may mispronounce some names, but in being proactive, we communicate to people that they are seen, that we want to know them and grow in relationship with them. So tell me your name. Forgive me, but tell me again.