What’s in a Name?

A recent Internet search service displayed 1.6 million results in answer to the question, “What’s in a name?” Evidently the question relates to an extensive list of interests to generate such a response. Topics listed varied from sources for personal name definitions, choosing a baby’s name, matters dealing with electronic viruses, to the acceptability of the names of professional sports teams. It is rather obvious that people in many walks of life and divergent occupations are quite concerned about “what’s in a name.” In fact, names have often been the cause of many and some repeated courtroom duels over various forms of infringement and misuse.

Equally interesting to note, early in this list, were the references to William Shakespeare’s famous quote from Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Here Juliet laments that her lover, Romeo, merely by his last name is noted as an enemy of her family and thus unacceptable for marriage. But she sees no such distinction in this name and counts it an irrelevant issue and one of no concern to her.

Today, the world’s population generally is of one or the other of these two extremes when it comes to the names that identify its variety of religions. Some are marked by extreme zeal in guarding their system’s name. Others hardly give a thought as to what name is revered by what people and in what place. So now when it comes to the matter of our spiritual options the question, “What’s in a name?” will only seem relevant if we have a genuine concern regarding our personal spiritual need. Immediately someone might ask, “What need? What’s the issue?” The need that we all have, though perhaps yet unknown, is the saving of the soul. The Bible calls this “salvation,” a term of utmost relevance to us all. It incorporates the truth of the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from God’s just judgment for those sins, and securing our eternal destiny: heaven with God. From the beginning, when man disobeyed God, his entire being fell into sin. Man became “dead in sins” (Eph 2:1), and thus, is not in a living relationship with his Creator-God but is spiritually dead and separated from Him. God told Adam, our first father, that if he disobeyed the one commandment God had given, Adam would “surely die” (Gen 2:17); and this he did.

One particular verse from God’s Word addresses our question: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This refers to the means of salvation, revealing that it is single-sourced and irrevocably linked to a name. Throughout the Scriptures, God made statements like this to every generation. When the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt and were told that God would deliver them they asked, “What is His name?” To this God responded, “I AM THAT I AM … The LORD God of your fathers. I will bring you up out of … Egypt” (Ex 3:13-17). Simply put, God told them He was the “ever existent One,” independent of time and its restraints and thus able to save them. Generations later the prophet Joel spoke this promise, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered” (Joel 2:32). Malachi, the prophet who closes the Old Testament, shows the extensive purpose of God for mankind in his need, “From the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal 1:11). God’s purpose of salvation for man was not just national but global, even personal, and it was inseparably linked to His name.

As the New Testament commences, we find two names given to Christ at His birth: “Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins,” and “they shall call His name Emmanuel, which … is, God with us” (Matt 1:21, 23). These names reveal that the child born of the virgin Mary was “God manifest in the flesh,” and the intent was that He would save us from our sins. The Apostle John wrote, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12). Later, the Lord Jesus stated the exclusive sense of His ability to save: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). In Acts 4 the apostles Peter and John are on trial by the religious leaders of the day. God had used them in the healing of a lame man and that by “the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (Acts 3:6). It is no wonder then that in chapter 4:12 Peter states so emphatically in that court the words which answer our question, “What’s in a name?” In the matter of our souls’ eternal destiny, everything rests in a name: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”