By Bianca Juarez Olthoff
Unless you’ve legally changed your name, you’ve probably had no choice in the name people call you. I always think it’s fun to sit with a pregnant woman and discuss possible names for her baby. Whether the names are inspired by a story or a family member, we intuitively know there is power in declaring and speaking destiny through the naming of a person.
I love discovering the meaning of my friends’ names, but sometimes I’m stuck when I discover a friend’s name is poorly chosen, sad, or, in some cases, downright offensive. Imagine my shock when I discovered my friend Kennedy’s name means “deformed head,” and Cameron’s name means “crooked nose.” My favorite character from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was named Portia, and I loved it until I discovered it means “pig.”
I’m obsessed with names and their meanings. Shakespeare famously asked in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name?” And though I don’t believe a name should permanently define you, it does have the power to affect who you are.
In Hebrew culture, a name was either a prophecy, foretelling some aspect of someone’s life, or chosen to document the situation into which a person was born. The name Moses, for example, means “pulled from water,” and our favorite floating freedom fighter was drawn, as an infant, out of the Nile. Jacob means “cheater,” and as the Bible documents, this man was Shady McShade!
“Name” Versus Identity
Sometimes we need a reminder of who we are in order to refute the lie of what we are not.
Maybe you’ve felt too weak to handle a challenge that sprung from nowhere and took you to your knees. Maybe you’ve failed at something and falsely believed that made you a failure. Worse yet, maybe you had ugly names spoken over you that negatively affected your identity. Were you called Fat? Did someone name you Stupid?
No matter what names have been given TO you or spoken OVER you, nothing can replace or supersede your identity as HIS child. Child of God, your story is not done. Your parents may have given you a name, but your heavenly Father has given you your identity.
The concept of renaming might sound foreign, but I believe our identities shift when our names do. For example, Jesus changed the name of Simon, one of his 12 disciples. Simon, which means “reed,” became Peter, which means “rock” (see Matthew 16:18). Jesus said that on the confession of Peter, he would build his church. Peter had a shaky beginning but ended up being a mighty pillar of strength—a rock, if you will—in the early church.
If you love drama, then you’ll love the dramatic story of Gideon, who was named Jerub-Baal by his father in Judges 6. Jerub-Baal means “contender with Baal” (the local god of the area). But it wasn’t until after an angel called Gideon a “mighty warrior” that his identity changed and his courage grew.
If names are important, renaming might be equally as important. It’s interesting to note that both Ruth and Orpah are Hebrew names. Why is it interesting? Well, because they were Moabites. The names they were given at birth would have, in all likelihood, been in their native language, not in Hebrew.
Scholars and theologians believe Ruth’s and Orpah’s names were not their original or birth names, and that they were used in the biblical recounting of their story to reinforce the narrative. If the name Orpah means “back of the neck,” was it an implication that Orpah turned her back on her friends? Scripture doesn’t say as much, but the last Ruth and Naomi probably saw of Orpah was the back of her neck as she walked back to Moab.
And Ruth? Ruth means “friendly companion,” and Ruth lived up to her new name as she remained with Naomi until redemption was found. Who wouldn’t want a friend like Ruth?
In discovering that “Ruth” most likely wasn’t Ruth’s given name, we can take from this renaming that Ruth can be anyone. Any one of us can take her name! Instead of just wanting a friend like Ruth, we can be a friend like Ruth. We can choose to walk through life’s trials and tribulations to find redemption together and in community, just like Ruth did for Naomi.
Names play a factor not only in who we are called to be, but in how we should live our lives. Whether you feel your given name is a perfect fit or couldn’t be further from the mark, whether you’ve been called something awful by yourself or someone else, you can rename yourself and reclaim your identity.
Child of God, you are chosen, and you are his.
Adapted from How to Have Your Life Not Suck: Becoming Today Who You Want to Be Tomorrow by Bianca Olthoff. Click here to learn more about this title.
Do you ever just want someone to help you figure life out — to tell you how to win at work, what guys to stay away from, and what jeans rock your body shape? With so much information at your fingertips, real success, good dates, and true friendships can still feel out of reach. Bianca Juarez Olthoff is your guide (minus the cargo shorts and tacky hat) to becoming today who you aspire to be tomorrow.
Packed with lessons Bianca learned from her own mistakes and heartache, this field guide will help you avoid unnecessary detours on the path to your best self. With her signature wit, engaging stories, and brilliant insights from a counselor friend, Bianca gives spot-on advice for adulting, career, relationships, and faith. Following the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi, Bianca’s humorous and honest anecdotes will empower you to create a successful life and discover all you can be.
This curated manual for the modern woman will help you:
- Connect with a mentor, let go of bad friendships, and find a relationship worth keeping
- Trust the goodness of God even in loss, betrayal, and unanswered questions
- Take initiative, do hard things, and achieve meaningful success
- Fall in love with God’s Word and see the Bible come alive
The perfect cocktail of sass and down-to-earth guidance, How to Have Your Life Not Suck is just the book you need to navigate your way to the life you want to live. More than that, Bianca will show you that though life is tough, you are too.
Bianca Juarez Olthoff is a Bible-teaching, word-slanging MexiRican who is passionate about raising up a generation of people passionate about Jesus Christ. As an author and speaker, she knows the power of words and wields them wisely. As a church planter and leader, she is committed to proclaiming the gospel domestically and internationally.
For more information, follow along on social media or visit BiancaOlthoff.com.