“Wow, that is so good. That’s just the kind of biblical wisdom we’d expect from someone named Naomi. Wow!”
The conference call moderator meant no harm. She offered a complement–the connection too easy to pass up. Naomi is a lovely, biblical name. The moderator simply filled blank air space with a kind word.
But I’ll admit. This accolade to Naomi made me feel like a chump. I lost all motivation to participate in the call. “Hello! My name is Heather.” What would the moderator say to me if I chimed into the conversation?
Obviously, instead of biblical wisdom, she’d expect hairstyling advice or the scoop on that new nail salon. Because if we assess each other only by our names, that’s where I come out. The name “Heather” doesn’t reek of insight.
Would she have pointed that out? Would she have instantly assumed my comments to lack substance? Was I right to stay quiet?
What’s in a Name?
As a kid I remember two things about my name, Heather. First, it had no nickname possibilities. Removing the “er” to make “Heath” sounded like a boy’s name. As did “Ther.” What would people shorten my name to? “Eather?” That’s cute. (Not so much.)
Second, I knew my name would limit my destiny. A family member once joked, “You don’t want to be rushed into emergency surgery and then be introduced to a doctor named Heather. You want your lady doctor to be a Carolyn or Teresa or Beatrice.”
I had no choice but to assume he was correct. Heathers had a certain bandwidth in which they could operate. Everywhere I turned the stereotype of a “typical Heather” was reinforced. Heathers on television were twenty-two year old, blonde bombshell girlfriends to forty-something guys enveloped in cliche, sitcom-caliber, mid-life crises. Heather rarely had an IQ higher than that of a canary. She was either a bimbo, a snob, or a girl who, with her two other friends named “Heather,” committed heinous crimes in an Ohio high school. (Yes, there’s a movie called “Heathers” but I’m not endorsing it.)
Do our names matter? Do our names determine our destiny? Should I feel limited because my name is “Heather?” (Not that I planned to attend medical school, ever . . .)
The Biblical Significance of Your Name
To a Hebrew, a name was much more than just a label. It was a tag that defined the person. Your identity derived from your name. Even through the middle ages, this trend continued. Sometimes names clarified your ethnicity (Atila the Hun), where you were from (Joseph of Arimathea) or what you did. (If your family name is “Potter” it likely started with a relative in the pottery business, likewise with “Baker” or “Shepherd.” My maiden name, in German, literally means “Door Man.”)
Thank Jesus that we’ve moved away from having our parents determine our destiny in this way . . .
Or have we?
This recent Business Insider piece talks about how our names really do have a (albeit subtle) impact on our futures. Employers are more likely to hire people with common names. If you have a very uncommon name, you are more likely to end up in prison. (Some of those involved in the study speculated it was related to acting out because of unfavorable attention regarding the individual’s name! Yikes!)
This same article showed that if your last name is closer to the beginning of the alphabet, you are more likely to get into a good college. While, if your last name is closer to the end of the alphabet, you are more likely to be an impulsive spender. (Apparently a childhood spent waiting a long time for roll call to get to you makes you not want to miss out on a chance to get in on a deal early! Hmmm . . .When I filed in line with the “T’s” before marriage, my spending habits were a lot worse than they are now that I line up with the “C’s”. Fascinating!)
I wonder how many women (and men too) struggle because of the names they’ve been given. Are there other “Heathers” out there who wanted to pursue medical school but chose the world of fashion instead?
I remember a friend in my early twenties whose name was Leah. She revealed at a Bible study one time that she always felt ugly. Why? Because Leah in the Bible wasn’t known for her good looks. She wore her name like heavy coat.
I’ve long felt an internal struggle as my name relates to my body image. Did I “look” like a Heather? Should I try to be “prettier” or “blonder” or more “fit” to match the stereotype of my namesake?
The Name Changer
God knows that this label we wear–our name–plays a role in our identity. Names matter to him. If they didn’t, then why would He bother changing the names of biblical heroes like Abraham (formerly Abram), Jacob (changed to Israel), and even Paul (the one-time Christian persecutor known as Saul)?
Or, maybe it’s that our identities matter to him. God is in the name changing business and, often, changing our name characteristic of our redemption process.
Even if your proper name works for you, what about the other names you’ve acquired? No matter what name your birth certificate reads, is there a name were you called as a child or teen that still burdens you today? Do you still recoil at the sound of cruel nicknames like, “Large Marge,” “Jumbo Judy,” or “Skinny Minnie?” Did your fair skin lead to a “Casper the Ghost” label or did your dark skin lead others to call you something even worse? Did the size of a certain body part “earn” you a name you’ve battled to shake free from for years (or decades?)
Is there a derogatory name that you wear that affects your identity today?
I’d encourage you to take a second and think about this one.
Find one? (I know, it kind of stinks to dwell on it.) But, I have good news. You don’t have to keep that name. It’s not yours, give it back.
I read this great book by Dan Allender called, “To Be Told”. It speaks of the power of telling your story and of the significance to recognizing that old name you’ve worn and allowing God to give you a new one. (I highly recommend it!) If you want to do that, today, you can. Just ask God for your new name. Ask him to redeem you and remove that old label. Seek him for your new one. Remember: if you know Jesus, your identity is firmly rooted in Him.
As for me, I believe God’s redeemed my given name. I no longer feel the pressure to be like any other Heather, nor do I feel the pressure to prove myself as “smarter” than the stereotype. Instead, I feel empowered to offer biblical wisdom to women, even if they don’t expect it to come from someone named “Heather.”
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