I recently was talking to a couple at church who had JUST found out they were pregnant. Even though they did not know the gender of the child, they already had pick out a name … a unique name. They explained that they didn’t want him or her ever to be confused when someone called their name. I bit my tongue, but I wanted to tell them that the kid better be tough because they were in for many years of teasing by the other kids.
I read about a different way of naming children practiced by the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria. Apparently, they wait until after the child arrives to choose a name. They believe that they should meet this new person first. Three days after the child is born s/he is brought into the community circle, and their feet are held to the ground. The elders seek to sense the name the child carries within that indicates the way she or he will walk in the world.
What an amazingly different approach to people. In the West, the way we choose names for children may be an indicator of how we name others throughout the rest of our lives. We are so prone to label people without really knowing them, without ever letting the spirit within them fully reveal who they are or could be. Labels tend to fix people in our minds and determine how we see them, treat them, and relate to them. Too often, that can have tragic consequences because it can rob us of an authentic relationship that might well have been lifegiving for us. We should wonder about the cost of labeling others, and wonder what kind of labels we have owned about ourselves.
As kids, we’d say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Well, that was stupid. You healed long ago from the hurts of stick and stones, but all those names you were called have never been forgotten by your subconscious. When we act badly toward others it well may be that we are acting out of those places of deep wounds and pains. We have all been labeled, and peeling them off is difficult, tedious work. Perhaps it would be easier to replace them with the labels God would like us to wear and use with others: beloved, divine, child of God, ambassador of grace, embodiment of love …
Rev. Michael Piazza