By divine arrangement, every human being bears a name. A name is an important identification and a critical asset which opens the door to meaningful inter-personal communication and group interaction.
In some West African countries, such as Sierra Leone, the names given to babies at birth in some local communities, are a combination of a couple of names in the family. In many regions of Ghana, babies are given names based on the day of the week on which they are born. The names are also attributed according to the sex of the baby. For example, in the Western and Central Regions of Ghana, a baby boy born on Sunday would go by the name Kwesi. In the case of a girl born on the same day (Sunday), the name would be Esi.
Some babies are named after important personalities who are known to have made significant contributions to their family, the local community or their nation at large. Other babies also bear the identity of some famous international personalities. Consequently, some children are named after Pele, the world-famous Brazilian football legend; Nelson Mandela, who spearheaded the campaign that freed South Africa from the apartheid regime; Kwame Nkrumah, Founder and first President of Ghana; and Kofi Annan, the first Ghanaian and black African Secretary-General of the United Nations.
In the 1990s, during one of my official business trips to la Côte d’Ivoire, the Immigration Officer who was processing my entry documents at the airport asked me: “How is Abedi Pele?”
He expected every citizen of Ghana to know the celebrated Ghanaian African footballer, Abedi Ayew (popularly referred to as Pele, the name of the world acclaimed Brazilian footballer) who made a name for himself in African and French football circles in his top career days.
Throughout the world, many families choose Biblical names for their children. The Biblical name usually becomes the first name. Consequently, names like Moses, Joshua, John, Peter, James, Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth, Naomi, Ruth and Dorcas are internationally known to form part of people’s identity. The Biblical personalities are chosen based on their godly character and the significant role they played in promoting God’s work.
Special acknowledgement & appreciation
Some parents also name their children after particular individuals, in recognition and appreciation of the latter’s invaluable services to their family. Recently, I met a young man who does not bear his father’s surname. When I enquired, he explained that his father decided to give him the surname of his friend who had been a tremendous support to him. This friend provided his father with critical financial resources which enabled him to complete his tertiary education. Without his friend’s help, he would have dropped out of school.
Names with negative labels
Some names bear negative labels. In Africa, like in other continents, the names that are given to some babies depict the problems and challenges associated with their birth. The mention of a particular name given to a baby would point to some negative or challenging experience.
In some cultures, where a woman experiences frequent miscarriages or some challenging situations, strange names are given to her new baby, with the intention of warding off evil spirits. In some instances, the names are meant to frighten death itself so that it would fear doing any harm to the baby. In this case, names such as ‘Owu’ (meaning death) may be given to babies born to a family of an Akan-speaking community in Ghana.
Names, character and behaviour
Can a name influence the character of the person who bears it?
In real life, it seems that some people who bear perceived negative names, actually act or behave in ways which relate to their names. In 1 Samuel Chapter 25, Abigail, in appealing to David and his band of soldiers to forgive her husband and spare their family from an impending attack, voiced out:
“Please, pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name means Fool, and folly goes with him.” (I Samuel 25v.25)
Reversing the Negative Labels
Some people, who do not accept the negative implications of their names, prefer to be called by a nickname which has a positive message. In other cases, individuals have rejected outright the negative names given them at birth and officially replaced them with more positive ones.
The Prayer of Jabez
In 1 Chronicles Chapter 4, we find a Bible character, Jabez, who took pragmatic steps to address the negative label associated with his name. His mother had a very difficult time during the birth of her baby, so she named him Jabez, meaning “I gave birth to him in pain.”(I Chronicles 4:9 NIV).
Jabez was aware that his name was associated with misfortune. He knew that if he continued to live in the shadow of such negativity, it would adversely affect his destiny. He therefore decided to do something serious about it. He cried to The LORD to change his situation and enable him to accomplish greater heights in life.
“Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” (1 Chronicles 4:10 NIV).
The Lord granted his request. In the end, Jabez was described as being more honourable than his brothers.
We must free ourselves from the impact of negative labels.
In her sermon entitled: “A Man Called Jabez” (Nov.2021), Bishop Jackie McCullough of International Gathering, Beth Rapha, tells us:
“We should not be victims of our past.”
We need a conducive environment and an enabling spirit to live a fulfilled life. In our desire to live a victorious life to the glory of God, we should not allow any obstacle to stand in our way. We must not get trapped in a name which oppresses us. We can cry out to God, just as Jabez did, to change our situation.
There is power in the name
There is a name that is all-powerful. God has placed that name above all other names – in Heaven and on earth. The devil fears that Name and trembles when it is mentioned. That Name is JESUS. Paul states emphatically in his letter to the Philippians,
“…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11 NIV).
Our new name
God has planned to give to all who believe in Jesus Christ a new identity – a Heavenly name. In the Book of Isaiah, we are told that God will give all who obey Him that new name.
“I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:5b NIV).
Let us pray for The LORD GOD to free us from any constraints and impediments that could hinder our progress in our desire to serve Him. May He create for us a conducive environment that would enable us accomplish successfully the mission He has assigned us on earth, so that in the end, we shall receive the new Heavenly name that is loaded with divine blessings and which will last forever.
The writer is a HR & Management Practitioner, Phone: 0244599628 E-mail: [email protected]