Most parents take great effort to decide on an appropriate name for a child. Some are named long before they are conceived and others can’t make up their mind until a pen hits the birth or baptismal certificate. Unless someone legally changes a name, a person is usually tagged for life.
Yet in spite of great intentions by parents and caregivers, many a “Buffy,” “Cookie”, and “Bobo” get stuck with pet names picked out by a sibling or friend. Now that I am an aunt, my own sister thinks the conjunction of Aunt Nat sounds like the pairing of two insects: “Ant Gnat” and thus, “Two Bugs.” I personally think that coming up with a nick name can be quite an exercise of the brain. Most of the times, however, such terms just emerge at the slip of the tongue. These designations are often cute, playful, and lovingly used by those closest to us. It is also interesting to see what people choose to call their pets. I think that my own Grandfather ran out of energy and creativity when he named his dog “Pooch”. After a few weeks the name stuck and years later it is a pup that his grandchildren remember well.
Some cultures are more apt to use nick names. Stereotypically many mobsters have some interesting and infamous designations. If one starts researching genealogy, there are trends in names that seem to run in families. Also in earlier times a surname was often given in relation to someone’s occupation or where they lived. Traditionally a name attaches to it a reputation.
In a spiritual sense, a name has great power. January 3 the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. In Philippians 2:9-10 St. Paul states: “God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth”(NAB).
In the Old Testament the name of God could not be spoken casually on human lips, if at all. “In Jewish thought, a name is not merely an arbitrary designation, a random combination of sounds. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named” (obtained from jewfaq.org). God is designated as YHWH with an unknown pronunciation. When Moses asks God His “name”. The answer given is “I am.” This reappears in the New Testament in the many designations Jesus speaks of Himself such as “I am the Resurrection”, “I am the Good Shepherd”, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”, “I am the Bread of Life”, “I am the Vine”, etc.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the one name that contains everything is the one that the Son of God received in His incarnation: JESUS” (2666). In assuming humanity God can be invoked in the name of Jesus, meaning “YHWH saves.” The catechism further states, “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and brings forth fruit with patience” (2668).
Often times just saying the name of Jesus has been the only prayer that I have been able to muster up out of my feeble heart. In times of stress, it is difficult to be eloquent, especially if seeking for God’s will. Yet speaking the name of Jesus can be one of the most productive of prayers when used sincerely. This is not to mean using the name of Jesus in a vain way.
In the tradition of the early Church, spiritual writers often referred to the “Jesus Prayer” which simply is the invocation: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners” which reflects the Gospel stories of the publican and blind men. The effect of the Jesus Prayer is to help open the human heart to receive God’s mercy (CCC 2667).