July 25, 2014
Written by Steven Liechty

Quinn G. Caldwell

Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, "Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me."  She conceived again and bore a son, and said, "Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also"; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, "Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons"; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, "This time I will praise the Lord"; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing. - Genesis 29:32-35

Leah knew exactly what to name her sons. In Hebrew, each of their names tells the story of her life and relationships with God and those around her.

The names Leah gave were based on clever wordplay and rhyme; not so with the no-holds-barred Puritans. Many chose to give their kids theological reminders in their names. I can imagine that wee Hope, Felicity, Trinity, Makepeace, and Tenacious might have appreciated that. But you have to wonder how little Humiliation, No-merit, Dust, and If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned felt about it. Actually, we do know a little about how that last one felt; historical records show that as soon as he was old enough, If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee made everyone start calling him Nick.

These days, if we decide to break out of the name mold, many of us just flip through a book until we find one we like, then announce pompously to whoever asks, "It's ancient Indo-European for ‘wisdom.'"  But what if you wanted to make the same point in plain old English, like the Puritans?  What name would you give your kids if by doing so you could call into being the things they needed to survive?  Love-God?  Fear-not?  You-are-beautiful?  Give-more?  Consume-less?  I-already-told-you-no-once-so-stop-asking-right-now? (I'm pretty sure that last one is my son's nickname.)

If you could remind your child of what she needed to know every time you yelled up the stairs, what would you name her?


God, remind me daily that you've already given me the only name that really matters: beloved. And please be sure to tell old Kill-sin Pimple, too; I'm pretty sure he needs to hear it. Amen.

About the Author
QQuinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York, and the author of the forthcoming All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas.

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