Monday, February 13, 2006


Most people have heard the story of the soldier who was brought before Alexander the Great to be judged for misconduct.

“What is your name?” the Emperor asked.

Timidly the solder replied, “Alexander, sir.”

Outraged the great general roared, “Either change your ways or change your name.”

Names are a fascinating study. In America, where a name is more likely a reflection of the time than meaning, the days of Fred and Frank of the ‘50’s is now given way to Justin and Jamie of today. We might be grateful for the change as who would want to be stuck with names of the ‘20’s such as Ola (which is my mom’s name) or Wathena or Lila Venus.

In India I am often asked what’s “my good name.” I still don’t know if they want my given or surname, but since they are confused with both Richard and Lewis it doesn’t make much difference what I give them.

In Kenya you can usually get a clue of the tribe of a person by their last name. If it has a strong “gha” or “ka” sound like, “Gichuki” or “Kariuki,” they are usually Kikuyu; names that begin with “M” are Luya’s, such as Mgoya. For the Luo tribe almost all names begin with “O” such as Odinga. I had Luo guy working for me by the name of Ochieng. Whenever I got a letter from him the envelope was addressed to a Mr. Lichard Oruis.

Indians love “pet” names. There are a lot of women called Pinky, a few Bubbles and one Punjabi guy is called Dimples. My advice is if he goes to the states he not take that name with him. Names carry meaning in India as they often reveal status or caste. In the south, where the majority of the Christians live, there are a lot of people with the surname Thomas, Matthews and Samuels. Occasionally I have even met a few David Livingston’s and Charles Spurgeon’s.

While I was in Korea last month I was intrigued with those who had taken on Western names. There are a lot of Kim’s and Cho’s, but their first names are real tongue twisters. When I met my translator she told me her name was Becky.

“Really,” I said. How did you get that name?

She told me her friend gave it to her. I asked others who had taken on Western names how they got theirs. One guy told me that an American friend, who couldn’t pronounce his given first name, said, “You look like a ‘Joe’ to me, and so that’s what I’ll call you.” Now, when he meets an American he just tells them his name is Joe.

I met another Korean by the name of Brian. He said a friend gave him the name and he liked it. When I asked how his wife came to be called Brenda he told me, “My favorite singer growing up was Brenda Lee. I gave her the name Brenda because I loved Brenda Lee.” To me, that’s dangerous. I’m not sure my wife would like it if I called her Raquel (and I will let you guess who I’m thinking about).

In parts of Ethiopia a child is given two names. One that is revealed and one that is secret. The secret name is only revealed when the person is old enough to protect himself.

Some say that we will have a new name when we get to heaven (Rev. 2:17), though I’m not sure of that interpretation. Christ is given a name that only he himself knows (Rev. 19:12). I do think we need to think a bit more about the name Christian, which means “little Christ,” or “follower of Christ.” Like Alexander told the soldier, perhaps sometimes we need to either change our behavior or change our name.