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What's in a Name?

Updated: Oct 21

Shakespeare asked, “What is in a name?” It used to be a tradition to name your children after relatives or friends who mean something to you. In Biblical times, names even had meaning and God would change names to fit their new identities. What about your name? Does your name bear some meaning or weight? Does it make you want to strive to live up to something or someone?

I woke up this morning thinking about my Greek grandmother (Yiayia). We did not get to see her often as she lived in Texas and we lived in California, but when we did, she always had a song she would sing to me and my sister that translated into something like “To bring joy, my girl. To bring joy, my children. To bring joy, my doll. Here they are. Here they are. Here are my precious ones. Here they are.” Oh, how I wish I had a recording of that song!

But in the end, she would only say to me, “…To bring joy, the one who has my name.”

You see, my name is a derivative of her name. Her name was Katerina. People would call her Katina for short. I was the only person in the family named after her and she loved it—and so did I. I was very proud to bear this woman’s name. I loved everything about her.

My yiayia lived in Greece at a very hard time. She grew and raised her family during World War II when the Nazis invaded her island of Crete, took over her house as their base, and the family had to hide in caves in the mountains and carefully scrounge for food. At her funeral, my aunt very appropriately compared her to the Proverbs 31 woman in her eulogy. I had never heard about the Proverbs 31 woman before, but it was exactly the kind of person she was. That made me want to become her even more.

My grandmother LOVED the Lord with all her heart, all her soul, and all her mind. Everything she did, she started in prayer. She talked to everyone about the Jesus. God put her in many positions to be able to share the gospel. I had the privilege of having her come live with us for a couple months when I was a teenager, after my papou had died. She kept telling us over and over Bible stories and testimonials of what God did in her life. She would tell us in Greek and so I didn’t understand everything she said, but I would hang on her every word. When her eyes grew old and she could barely read anymore, the only thing she could miraculously read was her Bible. She would tell us, “Everything I pick up gets smaller and smaller, but the words in my Bible keep getting bigger and bigger. It is the only things I can read with or without my glasses!”

But this morning, I woke up thinking that of all the things I loved about my yiayia, what stood out is that I never felt judged by her. I never felt like I was unworthy of having her name. She made me feel extra special to be named after her. She never made me feel like I had to live up to her name or prove myself for having her name. She loved me and adored me just because I had her name. I was the one who wanted to live up to her name. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to make her proud because I loved her so much! I was so proud to bear her name. It was a badge of honor for me. It still is.

Then the Lord reminded me—I bear His name, too.

And if you have been adopted into His family, you also bear His name.

In her same way, the Lord sings over us, “There is my girl. To bring joy, my doll. To bring joy, my child. There she is. There she is my precious one.” He doesn’t focus on our shame, our flaws, our weaknesses. He does not pour them out for others to scoff at or criticize. He sees our strengths and He capitalizes on them. He POURS His love and adoration upon us, freeing us to be the best we can be because we start in the secureness of His love. In the same way as I wanted to be just like my yiayia, we should want to be like Christ--loving, forgiving, redeeming, blessing. The things I truly loved about her were her Christ-like attributes. Her unconditional love. Her absolute love for the Lord. Because of this, she always brought out the best in me.

Later in life, my yiayia had severe Alzheimer’s Disease. One Thanksgiving, all her kids and grandkids came to see her and we took a family picture. She was very overwhelmed with all the “strangers” descending on her at once, kissing her, and trying to get her to recognize them. I could see the fear and confusion in her eyes, so I waited to be last so the hustle and bustle would dissipate a little. Then I went to hold her hand and look into her eyes. She took my hand, looked into my soul, and recognized me. She knew who I was. She called me by name! I was her Katinaki.

There are a lot of people who will dance around Christ at the judgement seat, saying “Look at me! You know me. Look at what I have done! Do you remember me?” And He will not. (Matt 7:21) This event made me realize that all the things we do and want to be recognized about by Jesus are not going to matter. It is going to be the one who connects with Him and serves Him out of love, that will count. He will look into our souls, and He will KNOW us; and He will know us by HIS NAME.

Oh LORD God, we often times forget how powerful and important it is to bear Your Name. We take it for granted that we have been adopted by you and we listen to the many voices in the world that tear us down and distract us from hearing Your singing and love over us. I pray that our connection with You is always our delight. That we will do whatever it takes to keep that communication open. I pray that we will love You so much that we want to be like You, sharing You and Your love and attributes with the world, through us. I ask that when we get beat down in our fears and our weaknesses, we will hear You singing over us, cheering us on to be everything you created us to be. Thank you for the beautiful picture of what it means to be Your child. I pray that when you look into our souls, You will know exactly who we are—We are YOURS! Thank you Jesus for all You have done for us. I pray all this in Your Precious and Holy Name. Amen.

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17

Did you know you can actually pray and ask God for a new name? Above all, accepting Jesus as your Lord and savior does give you a new name—Christian—and that is the name that matters most!

If you are interested in learning what it was like for my yiayia to raise her family through many hardships in Greece, my cousin, Christina Dooley wrote a historical fiction novel about my family called He Was There. The life of Arianna in the book is based on the life of my yiayia. You can find ways to get the book and other sweet notes about it on her website hewasthere.org.


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