What’s in a name? Shakespeare said it wasn’t really important:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

But God prioritizes names. He equates them to one’s reputation—especially His own. God told Abram his name would be great (Genesis 12:2). Later, He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “He struggles with God” (Genesis 32:28). And repeatedly, the Psalmists praise God’s Name.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. Psalm 29:2

Later, Peter heals a man just by saying Jesus’ name:

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Acts 3:6

And he insists before the Sanhedrin:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  –Acts 4:12

There’s power in one’s name—especially Jesus’.

Why do we get so embarrassed
when we forget someone’s name?

And identity. If names weren’t important, we wouldn’t get so embarrassed when we forget someone’s name, and it wouldn’t be so significant if we call someone by the wrong name. We also wouldn’t work so hard to pronounce names properly.

So what does it mean when someone remains nameless in the Biblical narrative? In particular, many people Jesus healed and some with whom He interacted often aren’t recognized by name.* (This fact makes it hard to write about them, in case you haven’t noticed. Check my 4-parter on the woman at the well!) I noticed this pattern as I’ve been thinking about ambition recently: the balance of ambition and humility, the desire to “make a name” for oneself, the amount of our identity that’s wrapped up in our names.

Would my children be the same
if they had different names?

I’ve even wondered if my children would be the same people they are, had we given them different names. Does a Joseph grow up differently from a Nathan? Is an Alice automatically unlike a Zoe? And thanks to Johnny Cash, there’s “Boy Named Sue,” but that’s different.

This year, in conjunction with my continuing exploration of ambition, I want to dig into some of the stories about people without names. I’ve already done several, which I list below. I hope you’ll join me in this exploration and maybe redefine your own ambition along the way.

Old Testament

Encounters with Jesus

Healings of Jesus

Names are important, which makes the absence of one’s name significant. What does it mean when someone in the Bible remains #nameless? Is it possible my namelessness is #NotAboutMe? Via @Carole_Sparks.  (click to tweet)

I asked this question on Facebook, but I want to ask here as well. What stories/situations from the Bible are significant to you but the biblical author didn’t name one of the main characters? Let me know in the comments below. Maybe it will become a post later this year!

2 thoughts on “Nameless: Series Introduction

  1. I find it incredibly interesting that Job’s wife is just that. Job’s wife. Given the tone of her rebuke to Job, I have to wonder why God took everything away from Job except his nameless and disrespectful wife to allow for added hardship. ?? Hmmm…

    Liked by 1 person

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