Changing Names And Changing People - What Happens When Man Does It And What Happens When God Does It.
I once knew someone who decided to change her name because she thought it was not glamorous enough. She was just a teen then, but she wanted to get into acting, and her parents allowed her to change her name to something she thought would be better suited.
She was the same person she had always been, her name simply changed and all who used to call her "A" now called her "B".
Name changing happens every day. When women get married they change their last name from their maiden name to their husband's name because it signifies that the two people are united as one. Often, because of divorce, women elect to change their names back to their previous name signifying that what was once one is no longer.
People change their names in order to protect themselves. It happens often in the witness protection program.
All of these people change their names but they do not change who they are. Their names may be different but they do not become someone different.
William Shakespeare famously wrote, " What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
But would it really smell just as sweet? Is there anything in a name?
Name Changes In The Bible
I refer to my Bible whenever I want to get a question answered. I firmly believe that the answer to every question is in there, it is just that sometimes it is difficult to find.
There have been many instances in the Bible where names have been changed. Sometimes names are changed by people. Other times names are changed by God.
To decide whether there was a difference in a name, I examined the people whose names were changed to see if who they were before the name change continued to be who they were after the name change.
Abram To Abraham And Sarai To Sarah
The first place name change comes up in the Bible is the Book of Genesis. God changes Abram's name to Abraham and Sarai's name to Sarah.
In Genesis Chapter 17 verse 3, the Lord says to Abram, "Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee."
And to Abraham concerning his wife Sarai, " As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her." (Genesis 17:15-16)
After the name change by God, Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah. They are called accordingly and when their old names are mentioned it is to confirm that their names were changed.
But were they changed as people?
Before Abraham and Sarah's name change, a lot of things occurred. Ishmael was born of Hagar, when they decided to take matters into their own hands.
After their name change, things started to happen. Abraham, according to God's command, circumcised every male in his household. At ninety-nine years of age, he himself was circumcised according to God's command.
The name Abram means 'high father.' God changed it to Abraham which means 'father of a multitude.' After God changed Abram's name to Abraham, Issac was born. From Issac came Jacob and the twelve sons whose children would be known as the children of Israel. The meaning of Abraham's name came true and he did become a father of a multitude. His name was first a prophecy for all to hear and then became a testimony for all to hear as well. Abraham became the name that God so called him.
Jacob To Israel
God changed Jacob's name to Israel when Jacob wrestled with Him at Peniel.God asked Jacob his name and when Jacob told him, God said: "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed."Genesis 32:28 K.J.V.
Jacob's name change is perhaps the most amazing one because it affected a people and still does today. An entire country is named after this man because his children became known as the children of Israel. God reaffirmed Jacob's name change in Genesis 35 verse 9, saying that his name was no longer Jacob but Israel. When speaking of Jacob himself, the Bible sometimes refers to him as Jacob and sometimes as Israel but when speaking of his descendants, he is referred to as Israel. The reason God gave for naming him Israel was that as a prince he has power with God and men and has prevailed. The name is said to mean 'contended with God'. In history, the children of Israel are the only people who have power with God and men. Israel is God's peculiar treasure and Jesus who is from the tribe of Judah which is a part of the children of Israel has power with God and men. This name change changed not only Jacob but his descendants as well and cleared a path for the Messiah to be born from that line.
Naomi To Mara
Perhaps Naomi's name change may not be considered a name change because even though she asked to be called Mara instead of Naomi she was the only one who it appears called her that.
She wanted to be called Mara because it means bitter. Her life, she thought, had been bitter and that the Lord had dealt bitterly with her (see Ruth Chapter 1 verse 21) and so she believed that her name should be as her life had been thus far.
But the Lord had different plans. The name Naomi means pleasantness and Naomi still had some pleasantness to receive. Her daughter-in-law married Boaz and she became a grandmother when she did not think she would ever be one again.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, And Azariah To Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, And Abednego.
These children of Judah were given new names when they were taken into captivity in Babylon. They were expected to become Babylonians and their name change signified that they were to be changed as people as well. No more were they to be children of Judah but they were to become children of Babylon. This was proven when they were ordered to eat as the Babylonians ate (Daniel Chapter 1) and to serve the god that the Babylonians served (Daniel Chapter 3).
Each of their names testified and glorified God.
Daniel means "God is my judge."
Hananiah means "Yahweh is gracious."
Mishael means "Who is like God?"
Azariah means "He whom God has helped."
The new names they were given and their meanings were:
Belteshazzar - "Bel protect the king"
Shadrach - " Aku's command"
Meshach - "Who is what Aku is?"
Abednego - "Servent of Nebo."
But though their names were changed by men, who they were did not change and the God they worshiped did not change. For they would not defile themselves and they would not bow down to a false god. Indeed, they were prepared to perish for the sake of the true and living God.
"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.
If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." Daniel 3: 16-18 K.J.V.
In the case of the children of Judah, their names were changed in order to prompt them to change the God they served. Perhaps it was hoped that the testimony of their new names to foreign gods would cause their hearts and lives to turn to a different path. This did not happen.
Jesus added a name to Simon's name and that was Peter. Sometimes, in the Bible, he is called Simon Peter, sometimes he is called Peter and other times he is called Simon who is also called Peter.
The name Simon means " He has heard," and the name Peter means, "Stone."
Jesus did not do away with Simon's name, He added to it. I believe that he needed to become stronger which is why Jesus added Peter to his name. Simon Peter was to face his own denial of the Lord. Jesus said to him, "The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)
In time, Simon was referred to as Peter more than he had been and he is known as the disciple Peter to us today. He became a 'stone' strong in the Lord and was able to overcome his weakness of flesh. I think that the blessing of an added name given to him by Jesus helped him significantly. I believe that when God gives a name it is a great blessing.
Shakespeare was right - A rose by any other name would smell the same, if the name was given by a man. If the Lord chose to name the rose another name then that is another story. The essence of the rose would change to fit the meaning of the name the Lord gave it. I believe this to be true because I believe the words of God have power. That is why I look forward to my new name He has promised me.
"To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Revelation 2:17 K.J.V.