“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.'” (Isaiah 43:1)
Names matter. My parents named me “Caroline,” and somehow that particular string of letters feels eternally linked to who I am, as if they line my DNA like biological alphabet soup. (It’s weird because they could have named me something else, like Karen or Bubbalicious or Raisin Bran, and I’m sure I’d feel just as connected to those series of letters if they had.) Praise the Lord, even though Dad actually loves Raisin Bran, my folks thought carefully and chose Caroline, just for me.
When I named my kids, it was almost a sacred process. It felt huge, to select a word that an actual human has to carry around with them forever. We chose the most wonderful names we could think of, and I still doodle those names and smile. It was my first opportunity to proclaim who my babies are, Adelaide and Greer, and I remember writing their names on our old chalkboard to announce them to the world, outlining every stroke of the letters with love, thoughtfulness, tenderness, anticipation, and affection.
Nothing about their names was flippant; everything about their names felt like a gift. I pray that Adelaide Arden and Robert Greer never doubt for a moment that they are loved, cherished, and celebrated by a mom and dad who still enjoy writing those particular names on doctor’s forms and coat tags.
Sometimes we take on names beyond the ones our parents gave us. Names like “Scattered,” “Dramatic,” “Too much,” “Loud,” “Boring,” “Attention-seeker.” We let those letters line our DNA without realizing it, and it manifests itself in funky ways.
Here’s a silly example: I rarely wear earrings, but when I do, I have to battle this little voice that says, “You look like you’re trying too hard.” It’s the same voice I hear when I wear lipstick or heels, and I imagine it would start to screech if I wore all of these things together. Isn’t that weird? They’re just earrings, just lipstick, just shoes.
These things didn’t birth me or cherish me or thoughtfully consider me, but they like to name me nonetheless: “Trying Too Hard.” I hate that name. Everywhere I look, someone or something is trying to stick a name tag on my shirt: social media, mirrors, fitting rooms, other people, my own mind. Every name puts a different brand of brokenness on display, and I collect them all, different names with the same shout: “Fix yourself! You’re broken!”
Be careful, self and sister, because though the world is looking to name us, naming is a sacred thing reserved for the ones we belong to, the ones who carefully consider us, the ones who love us deeply, the ones who give us life. That means that beyond Phil and Wendy Powers choosing to name me “Caroline,” the only one who can name me is God Himself.
When I was in college, I remember reading the word “Beloved” in the Bible, and God impressing upon my heart: “That’s your name.” I never even told anyone about that impression because it seemed a little bold: God, seeing specifically me and calling me specifically that? But now, years later, I still hear that name whispered to me as I study my Bible and go about my day. Though it still feels unbelievable that I could be loved tenderly and specifically by the God of the universe, I know it’s true.
When past sins and present failures overwhelm my mind and I’m tempted to despair that this precious love has vanished, He speaks over me another name: Redeemed. The gospel story teaches us that we’re deeply loved and profoundly forgiven, and when that knowledge sinks deep into our heart, it shows up on our name tags: Beloved. Redeemed.
So I can shout to social media, “My name is not Worthless!” and I can shout to the earrings, “My name is not Trying Too Hard!” because I know Who is allowed to name me, and I believe what He says. To Him belongs all power and glory! When I idolatrously give naming power to anyone else, my heart suffers under burdens it was not intended to bear. How grateful I am for the whispers that call me back to truth: Dear Daughter, your name is Beloved. Your name is Redeemed.
Who or what are you allowing to name you? Confess this idolatry to God and allow Him to speak over you in the truth of the gospel your true name. That name is your battle cry against the enemy. May what God has proclaimed over you through the shed blood and miraculous resurrection of His son Jesus never be felled by any earthly voice!