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Monday, 17 January 2011

What's in a (Christian) name?

Last week, the Pope caused an unexpected stir when he complained about the use of "un-Christian names" being given to Italian children.  According to one newspaper report, he said that "Every baptised child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the Church." He added that a name was an "indelible seal" that set children off on a lifelong "journey of religious faith".(The Telegraph; 11-01-11)

While not agreeing with all of the pope's Roman paedobaptist perceptions, it must be admitted that some of the names that modern parents inflict upon their newborn children are somewhat ridiculous!  Glamour model, Katie Price, named her daughter Princess Tiaamii; while Sir Bob Geldof has daughters named Pixie and Peaches; and Victoria and David Beckham called their first son Brooklyn, after the district of New York where, allegedly, he was conceived!  I reckon that, when he is older, he will at least be glad that his parents weren't holidaying in Thailand at the time - especially if they had decided to spend the night in
Krungthepmahanakornamornratanakosinmahintarayutthayamahadilokphopnopparatrajathaniburiromudomrajaniwesmahasatharnamornphimarnavatarnsathitsakkattiyavisanukamprasit (yes, that really is the one name of a real place - but please don't ask me to pronounce it!)!
So what is a Christian name?  Well, my understanding has always been that it was the new name that, in the early days of the church, a believer took on at baptism as a further sign of the new life on which (s)he had now embarked.  Of course, this was 'believers' baptism'.  In other words, the new name signified the new life - it wasn't that a name was given in order to 'ensure' that new life by being "... an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the [Roman] Church."
This is why I have, for longer than I care to admit, been opposed to the use of the term "Christian name" on various forms, and am pleased to see the increasing use of 'Forename' or even 'Personal name' - each of which is much more accurate, I would submit, in an increasingly secular society.  My 'given name' is what my parents chose, and what was added to my birth certificate.  When I became a disciple of Jesus, some 15 years later, I didn't change my name, or take on a 'Christian name'!  If I were to do so now, I suspect that I would plump for Peter - not because of his 'sainthood' (in New Testament terms, every follower of Jesus is a 'saint'!), but because, like him, I so often deny my Saviour and Lord by my words, and deeds and, particularly, my thoughts!  Ever wondered why Paul writes so often about the need to have one's mind renewed, and to think on those things that are good and honourable? (see, for example, Rom.12:2 and Phil.4:8).
Of course, the important thing is not as much to have a specifically Christian name, as to live the life that seeks to please the Lord in all that we do.   Jesus' words, as recorded for us in Matt.7:15-23, may be seen to be relevant here!
One note of concern is the report that, according to official statistics, the most popular name for newborns in Britain is Mohammed, after the Islamic prophet. A total of 7,549 newborns were apparently given variations of the name last year.  On the not unreasonable assumption that that name is not going to be given to many non-Muslim children, then it is an indication of what may be seen as the continuing Islamification of the country.  If I am correct, then those of us who seek to be faithful (if not always very successful!) followers of the Lord Jesus, may well be obliged to adopt a truly Christian name - and be prepared for the kind of persecution that may be seen in so many countries around the world today.
Our hope is in the assurance that He will never leave us, nor forsake us; and that He is never surprised by events on planet Earth!

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