A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. – Kohelet / Ecclesiastes 7:1
Shakespeare wrote in his famous play “Romeo and Juliet”:
“What's in a name? That which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet.”
Sounds like such a deep statement. I often hear people saying, ‘I’m not into labels’ and by that they mean that they don’t want to be defined or called a certain way because that’s not all they are. But following that logic, nothing is just one thing so nothing should be named or defined in any way.
A potato is a word we use to describe a tuberous crop (had to google that one) or even the plant itself. Now, that’s not all there is to the potato. They come in all shapes and sizes and if you care to know more about the complexity that is the potato, you can look it up. The word potato doesn’t describe everything that plant is, but it’s the label we use for it. When you use that word in conversation, the person hearing it will know exactly what you mean.
There is a need in humans to name things, or define them in order to make them real for ourselves. When we don’t have the definition for something, that thing is dead to us. It’s non-existent.
People who raise animals for meat rarely give them a name. In many cultures, babies are not considered real,not whole people, until they are named. Villains in books and movies are often left unnamed or given euphemisms like Dr. Claw, The Joker, or Scar; they are never called Ruben or Mary. In all of these cases, real names make the person or animal multi-dimensional, capable of feeling, worthy of empathy.
Names give people something to hold onto.
My sister has a name for everything she owns and cares about. For example, her phone – she calls it Asher, her tablet – Ilinca (Romanian name, don’t ask!), her laptop – Yaffa (Heb. Beautiful), their car – Gorgo (queen of Sparta), did I leave anything out? Oh, wait and her suitcase is Alana.
Beautiful quirky little thing, my sister. I love her to bits and even though some might think she’s weird (which she is, bless her!) she just cares about every little thing and so she’ll name it as a way to make it her own, to claim it. It’s a need that we all have even if it’s not to that extent.
In Judaism names represent one’s identity not simply because they are a convenient way to allow us to be distinguished one from another. It is because they define a person. The names are not accidental. They are to some extent prophetic. They capture one’s essence. They are the keys to one’s soul.
The Hebrew word for soul is neshamah. Central to that word, the middle two letters, shin and mem, make the word shem, Hebrew for ‘name.’
In Hebrew every letter has a numerical value as well. The numerical value for the word shem is the same as for the word sefer – book.
Names are a book. They tell a story.
Humans didn’t come up with names by themselves. In the Torah the first One to use names was Adonai. And He used names not for the sake of identification, but rather for creation.
When the Torah says, “HaShem created,” it doesn’t suggest that He worked with what He fashioned by labor, but merely that He spoke – and the very words describing the object came into being. Adonai said, “Let there be light and there was light.” The Almighty merely gave it a name, and the very letters defined its atomic structure.
Names are very important in the Scriptures.
Names are not just what we use to differentiate between objects. Names are responsible for the differences between all things on this earth.
Things really are what they are called despite what Shakespeare said.
In the Talmud it’s written: "Three names are given to a man. One by his parents; a second by the world; and a third by his works. Which, of these is the best?”
I believe that the name that Adonai gives you is the best. In Isaiah 56:5 it is written:
“I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”
Yeshua promised in Hitgalut/ Revelation 2:17 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
“A good name is better than great riches.” – Mishlei / Proverbs 22:1
My parents gave me a name. When I grew up I had many nicknames. I was called names by Jews and non-Jews because I was never good enough for either. I try my best to make a good name for myself and never shame Adonai by my actions and I don't know how successful I am with that, but I know He gave me a name and that's the only one I value.
Bat Melech בת מלך