My friend Big Guy (who is a girl) names cars. You might think this is silly until she names your car and you feel the difference. She has a bizarre gift. She comes up with the name that exactly personifies your car and after that, everything you hated or loved or even briefly noticed about your car has a ring of affection to it.
I had a big, gray, fugly Mercury Grand Marquis for the longest time. The woman who owned it before me smoked like a chimney and it absolutely rotted the interior. The thing was disgusting and bits of it were always just falling off. It had no AC, only 2 working windows and chugged gas like crazy. But after Big Guy named it Nathaniel… I couldn’t help but smile at “him.” (It’s like that smelly, awkward cousin that everyone has – you wish he was different, but if we was, you almost wouldn’t like him as much.)
There’s just something about names.
Something that instantly spins a thread of relationship and meaning between two people (or a person and a car…) When a baby says your name, it makes you feel awesome. When someone mispronounces your name (story of my life) it hurts a little. When someone forgets your name, it makes you feel insignificant.
I think about the Bible and how Adam names the animals and God renames people like Abraham and Sarah and then God as Jesus renames his disciples. I think about places like the DMV or the deli or prison where people’s names are substituted with numbers. I think about the levels of degradement we feel in those places and how different we would feel if they simply used our names.
There’s something about names that tugs on our identity.
Don Miller’s “What If Challenge” is buzzing all over the Christian culture. I agree with him – “what if?...” is one of the most powerful questions we can ask, because it sends us foreward. When we make promises, resolutions, and challenges to ourselves, they only go so far. They say “tomorrow I will do this…” without considering the end result. There’s something powerful about imagining the outcome of your promise first. When you ask “what if?”, you invite yourself to dream. You allow yourself to see the possibilities and the repurcussions of your actions. Those glimpses into a possible future hold you accountable more than you realize. They motivate you.
I asked myself “what if I called people by their name more often?”
When I thank the tattooed cashier at Dollar Tree.
When I catch my elusive downstairs neighbor, getting into his car.
When the guy outside 7-11 asks me for change.
The future I see, growing out of this question like a lovely, iridescent bubble, is small but beautiful. It is beautiful for me and for the people whose names I will call. Because when I learn the name of the man outside 7-11, he becomes more of a human to me and less of a statistic. He looks more like my “own flesh and blood” that God tells me in Isaiah to stop turning away from. His name reminds me to abound in grace and compassion and I imagine (I hope!) that when I say it, he feels valued.
Because, as I’ve said before, the business of Jesus that I feel most powerfully in my life, is the business of looking people in the eyes and showing them they have value and they are loved. I’m not very good at it. I struggle every day. But if I learned people’s names, if I called them by that name, I think it’s a pretty solid (ever so small) step in the right direction.