Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Eight Day of Christmas 2014 The Name of Jesus

Today is traditionally the day we commemorate the naming of Jesus. In Jewish custom, a male child was circumcised and given his name eight days after he was born. Hence this day becoming the feast day in many (not all) liturgical traditions.

I'm terrible with names. I know I'm not alone in this, but I usually have to hear a person's name multiple times before it'll stick. I count this as a personal failing and I hope to improve on this. Perhaps this might be a New Year's resolution.

I also try very hard to learn a person's name, no matter how difficult I initially find it to pronounce. I don't know if other English speaking cultures do this, but Americans are particularly bad at expecting people of other cultures to adopt a "pronounceable" name when they move here. This embarrasses me as an American. My initial inability to make the right sounds does not mean I can't work at it and learn it. I've found it's usually a matter of listening to how a name is pronounced than trying to learn it from looking at how it's spelled. I briefly worked with a woman with an Asian name that, on paper, didn't look how I would try to pronounce it, but once I learned to pronounce it from listening to her say it, it was both easy and beautiful. Sadly, she'd given up trying to make most Americans say her name and had adopted a simple Anglo name. I guess it helped her function in our society without making anyone "uncomfortable," but I feel badly that this is something we do to immigrants.

In the Bible, names are important. There are names that are changed because the life has changed, or a role has changed (Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul, to name only two), and God is particularly cagey about giving a name because it's too important to let people just throw around. "I am who I am" was a roadblock to giving a name---and it became the name the ancient Hebrews used, but sparingly. Saying a name is not something to take lightly.

So on this first day of 2014, I've been thinking about names, the importance of learning new names, the care with nicknames and the like. I'm not setting hard and fast rules about any of it, but reminding myself on this Feast Day of the Holy Name of Jesus, that names are important, should be used with care. 

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