You’re unique and unlike anyone else who has walked this planet. Yet, you’re not wholly self made. Have you considered your identity through your name?
Today we will discuss how you’ve been given identity through your name. This is an important topic to my wife and I as our daughter is due in 8 weeks. Like almost every parent, we want her name to carry significance. We want it to embody a legacy to impact her generation. No big deal.
Before we discuss your identity through your name, let’s define “identity.” These qualities will carry over into this coming series.
Your identity includes unique characteristics that distinguish you from others, but it also can include your self-esteem and self-awareness. It’s a process. Identity is not just who you are currently, but who you are called to be. You can find out more on this in my new book Black Tie that’s available for pre-order.
When you are born, you are given an identity through your name. A name helps differentiate you from others. While every culture’s naming methods differ significantly, the impact of a name on identity is intercultural. In her book, Names and Nunavut, scholar Valerie Alia writes, “…names…are always central in defining identity.”
“A man’s name is not like a mantle which merely hangs about him, and which one perchance may safely twitch and pull,” wrote the poet Goethe. “But a perfectly fitting garment, which, like the skin, has grown over and over him, at which one cannot rake and scrape without injuring the man himself.”
According to Vladimir Nikonov names can be significant in 3 ways:
- “A name’s etymological meaning”
- “The name’s signifying meaning (function of the proper name as label)”
- “It’s social meaning representing the symbolism of a name that has acquired historical meaning”
For instance, my name is Kris. The etymology behind my name comes from Greek, meaning “carrier of Christ.” St. Christopher is known as the saint who carried Jesus over a stream. Kris, as a male peaked in usage in the mid 1970s. My mom named me after her favorite actor and singer-songwriter, Kris Kristofferson.
I have to believe my namesake subconsciously contributed to my songwriting as a child. My high school years were filled with theater and speech tournament acting. Were these talents and gifts a result of my name?
A name change can signify a new identity. We confer identities on people through the use of nicknames. In some cultures a name change carries great significance. Consider one ancient biblical name change. Jacob, which meant “deceiver,” was given the new name Israel, which meant “power in God.” The new name gave him a new identity, and a new future for a nation.
A name carries importance in many cultures. As author Stephen Mansfield notes in his book Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men,
Apparently, when an Arab man has a son, his name changes. From that moment on, he is addressed with a combination of Abu, which means father, and the name of his son…Arabs consider fatherhood so important that once a man becomes a father to a son, he is honored for it the rest of his life.”
In traditional Chinese culture, a boy is provided multiple names to signify the growth into manhood. “For this, men needed to have at least two names, but most had more. In contrast, village women sometimes even stayed nameless.”
To be nameless is to be degraded. To not have a name means you are not differentiated and do not deserve privileges. In the United States, a criminal gives up his or her name for a prison number. I’m also reminded of the book A Child Called It. The young boy is abused and is further humiliated when he’s no longer referred to by name.
Although much has changed, historically, you could find your identity through your name. “A person’s name signified their person, worth, character, reputation, authority, will, and ownership.”
What does your name say about you?