Knowing The Meaning Of Your Name

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” 18 As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben–oni; [D] but his father called him Benjamin.[E] 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20 and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.–Genesis 35:16-21 | NRSV

Do you know how you came to have your name? Who named you? Why did your mother, father, or mother and father give you your name? In my case, I’m very clear who did not name me: my biological father (with whom I am very cool and for whom I have mad love). My father and mother parted ways three to four months prior to my birth when my father left unceremoniously and simply never returned. His departure not only changed my mother and older sister’s life dramatically, but his conspicuous and inexplicable absence would misshape and motivate me, alternately, throughout my psycho-spiritual journey at varying points. Yet, that’s a painful, incredible, and providential story for another blog. 

To this day, I am not sure why my mom named me Anthony. She simply said that she had always like how the name sounded when I asked her why she gave me that particular name. As I grew older and more curious about the etymology of names and words, I looked up my name and learned it was simply a Roman surname, which had been Anglicized and means “Highly Praised”. I’m not sure my mom knew that when she named me. At the risk of sounding immodest, I think it fits me (lol). She did, nevertheless, know exactly why she gave me my middle name Lavay, which has been the source of some good-natured teasing from relatives, friends, and the members of EBC, some of whom take perverse delight in referencing my middle name whenever they refer to me privately and/or introduce me publicly. My mother told me she gave me the middle name “Lavay” in honor of Lavelle, the last boyfriend and the last man who treated her well prior to marrying my father.

When Benjamin was old enough, I suspect his father Jacob was the one who told Benjamin how he acquired his name. He told him about how his mother Rachel had gone into labor, which was difficult and dangerous. Giving birth to Benjamin proved a risky and fatal proposition for Rachel. When the midwife informed her she had given birth to her second son (Joseph was her first), Rachel named him Ben-oni, which loosely translated in the Hebrew means “son of my pain or son of my suffering”. Jacob, Benjamin’s father, who did not want this son to bear a name that was a constant reminder of the death of his mother, and that was also believed by some to signal a child’s destiny, renamed him Benjamin. Benjamin, loosely translated in Hebrew, means “son of the South” or “son of my right hand”. Many scholars suggest that Jacob probably meant the latter, not the former, so as to give a son born in tragedy and an opportunity to grow into greatness. The right hand, according Jewish custom and convention, was the hand of power, with which greatness was won. Now, you know how I got my names and how Benjamin got his. The question, however, is: Do you know who gave you your name? Do you know the meaning of your name–or at least what your parent(s) might have hoped your name meant, if they did not do an unofficial name search? Were you named for a grandparent–perhaps a maternal grandmother or a paternal grandfather? More importantly, are you clear that God has given you a new identify, history, family, and destiny? If not, perhaps you should research that, while you ask questions of your family about how you got your name.

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