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A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

What’s In A Name?

December 6th, 2007

My neighbor got a dog a couple weeks ago. A little lap dog that the veterinarian thinks is about 2 years old. It’s a Papillon (PA-pee-yon). I’d never seen one in person before. As you likely know, Papillon is French for “butterfly”. The breed is so named because their ears look like butterfly wings.

I asked the dog’s name and my neighbor told the story.

“A friend of mine told me about this dog. It wasn’t in a very good home. The family that had it didn’t treat it well. They also had little kids who kept carrying the dog around by its ears. They couldn’t get the kids to stop so the dog had to go.”

“When I agreed to take the dog, I asked what its name was. My friend wouldn’t tell me. “They called it a nasty name”, she said. I asked her to tell me anyway and she refused.”

“It was obvious the dog had been abused because it acted afraid and just cowered all the time. So here I am bringing home a dog who’s scared, who I need to get to trust me and I don’t even know his name.”

“I felt silly and not very nice doing it, but I started saying all the bad words I could think of to see if the dog responded. Nothing.”

“Then a couple nights ago I was watching a TV show. One of the characters was named “Tucker.” The first time an actor in the show said, “Tucker”, the dog’s ears perked up and he ran to the TV, jumping up and down. Every time someone said, “Tucker” he just danced.”

“I looked at the dog and said, “Well, I guess we figured out what bad name they’ve been calling you. But since “Tucker” seems to work for you, that’s good enough for me.”

She picked him up and rubbed his head. “Now that he has a name, he’s a different dog.”

As if on cue, Tucker growled and barked at a German Shepard across the street.

It’s been said that the sweetest sound a person can hear is the sound of their own name.  Setting aside those nauseating narcissists who glory in their vanity and flatterers who use people’s names to get what they want, I think the statement is true. There’s something about the sound of a name, especially when we hear our own.

I volunteer at my daughters’ first grade classes on Friday mornings. It’s been important for me to learn the names of their classmates. Sometimes sitting with them at lunch I’ll “test” myself in front of them, even though I know their names.

“Let’s see, I hope I can remember…Melissa, M.J., Savannah, Wyatt, Belle, Alize, Justin, Emily G., Adara, and let’s see, what was your name again? Was it Fred? Billy? Mike? No, it’s Jonah!”

And Jonah laughs and smiles because he knows I know his name and he’s so pleased that I remember.

When I play the name game with them I’m always fascinated by the expression on their face right before I say their name. Even though we’ve played the game tens of times, there’s a look of anxious anticipation, and in their eyes a hopeful question mark. “He will remember, won’t he? I hope he remembers.”

And when I do and they hear the magic syllables that set them apart from everyone else; they exhale the breath they’ve been holding and smile big missing front teeth smiles. Because they’ve been identified. Their name means something and in the saying of it I have validated them. “You are Melissa.” “You are Jonah.”

It’s the same reason Tucker danced in front of the TV when he heard what he thought was his name. We all want to be validated. That we are real. That we exist. That we are important.

It seems that names are significant to God as well. He named His creation. “God hung the stars in the sky and calls them all by name” (Isaiah 40:26) One would have to be creative to name untold trillions of stars. God gave Adam the responsibility of naming the animals in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:19-20). He calls His people Israel by name and by His own name (Isaiah 43:1-7).

Jesus said that He calls His sheep, those who belong to Him, by name (John 10:3). And when He does He leads them out, going ahead of them. And those who are His follow Him because they know His voice.

Lots of people know my name. Yours, too. Family, friends, co-workers, even direct mail companies who program their pitch letters to insert your name automatically throughout the text to make you feel like they know you.

But the fact God knows our name should make us feel like Tucker in front of the TV. We are real to God. We exist. Created in His image, male and female, we are valuable and important in His sight. God validates us when He says, “I know your name. You are mine.”

Today don’t just say “hi” to the teller at the bank, the cashier at the grocery store or the server at the restaurant. Take note of the badge pinned to their shirt and say the name. And when you do, remember God knows their name, too.

And if the name on the badge happens to be “Tucker”, tell the story about my neighbor’s dog. It just might make them smile.

“He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.” – John 10:3-4