30th August 2021

In her thought for the day on 18 August my other half Margaret set us thinking about names, so I’ll continue. I was once talking with a German Baptist theologian, just a few years older than myself, and somehow the topic of names came up. I remarked that my parents, reflecting the patriotic mood of wartime Britain (even though we were in far-off China), chose as my second name ‘Winston’. With a slightly embarrassed smile he said, “And for similar reasons, I was named ‘Adolf’”. We can no more choose our names than we can choose our parents, though if we really feel strongly we can ask people to call us something different. Nicknames, or abbreviations of our surnames, easily become our most familiar names but even they are mostly given to us, affectionately (or at least with some amusement). Some months ago I got an email which addressed me as ‘Clem’, a name I hadn’t heard since student days, if not schooldays. The very fact of being given a name reminds us that our life is itself a gift, an expression of God’s grace. That is why for each of us our name is precious. It’s a sign that we matter to other people for who we are in ourselves, with all our quirks and foibles, and at the deepest level we matter to God, source of all life. Think what life would be like if we were known only by a number, like prisoners in uniform. The most beautiful sentence in the Bible is that single word spoken in a garden, one shadowed and tearful morning: ‘Mary!’

Keith Clements