What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.
~ Romeo and Juliet
Names are important. A person's name embodies their entire identity, it remembers what they have done and predicts who they will be. More than anything else, we are identified and known by our name. Richard A. Epstein writes for Forbes, "Analytically, names have two distinct functions. The first is to designate one individual to the exclusion of all others, for which a nine-digit social security number will do just fine. But many names carry an expressive content, as by naming a daughter Chastity or a son Jesus."
What do you think of when I mention the name Adolf? A homicidal madman who murdered twelve million people and started the second World War, probably. But in 2009 a couple named their son Adolf Hitler Campbell, which caused an uproar when a local bakery refused to put his name on a birthday cake.
You have probably hear that the most common name in the world is Mohammad, the prophet of the Islamic faith. This really isn't so different from the commonality of Biblical names like John, James, or Michael. All of these names reflect the faith of the parents who want their children to share the same faith of the original namebearers.
But there are plenty of people who don't want their names to be known. Think of just about any superhero movie you have seen: how many of them go around telling the world who they really are? Tony Stark of Iron Man is really the only one I can think of, who as a narcissist revels in the publicity of being a superhero. Batman, Spiderman, Superman, they all keep their personal identities hidden from the world, because they are afraid. They fear that if their enemies knew who they were, their family and friends would be in grave danger, and so they keep everyone at a distance so their friends won't realize they are a superhero, and so that their enemies won't hurt their family.
Fiction has always thrived on the idea of a name being something so powerful that a person's name should be kept hidden at all costs. I read a book once, Skulduggery Pleasant, where a major point of the book was that everyone has a "given name" which is what we are known as, but also a "true name" that if spoken by anyone allows them to control you. The long-running British sci-fi TV show "Doctor Who" gets its name from the main character, The Doctor. Many times, when introducing himself to others as The Doctor, they respond with, "The Doctor? Doctor Who?". We later find that only a handful of others have ever known his real name, but that doesn't matter because he is known as The Doctor, the name he chose. His real name doesn't hold the power that everyone seems to think it does, because everything that is has been associated with the name The Doctor, not his real name.
But there is so much more to names than just a person's reputation. For a good majority of us, the names Yahweh, Jehova Jireh, El Elyon, or Elohim mean very little, if anything, to us, but Jesus or Immanuel mean quite a lot. These are all names for God in the Bible, the first four being names of God the Father, and the last two names of God the Son. But what is interesting to note is that these are all real names of God. The name "God" or "Lord" or "Heavenly Father" are titles given to him, but Yahweh is the name He gives to us.
So why is this significant? Think about your middle name for a second. How often do you get called by your middle name. When your parents are upset or your friends want to test you, typically. It's not common for someone to go by their middle name, and usually only those whom you are close to will even know it. As simple, almost childish, as it is, only those you choose to let close to you ever really know your name. So it is with God. For since the creation of the world he knew he wanted to be close to us, and so he gave us his name. The very first verse in the Bible is typically translated as, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." But the name God in this verse is Elohim in Hebrew. Likewise, Genesis 2:4 is the first use of Yahweh, translated Lord. From the very beginning, God gave us his name.
This is huge. The first thing that God wants us to know what his name. Before we know that he created everything, we know his name. We know who he is, and because of this, we know that he wants us to fully know him. He doesn't want us to think of him as some distant being who is unapproachable, or as a figure who is so far above us that he would never want to meet with us. He wants us to know his name, lest we forget who he is and treat him just as a "thing" rather than a person. But our God is not just a "thing". A golden calf is a "thing", and so is the fame and money so many worship in pop culture. God is not like these fickle idols, because they will never be able to give anything back to us, and they will never hear us.
But God hears us. He listens to our prayers, and he desires with his whole heart to know us, and so be known by us. And unlike the lifeless idols worshipped by the world, God showers us with love, and he gives good gifts to his children. He gave the best gift, his Son Jesus, to this world so that we would know who he is. You see, God doesn't want perfection out of us. He knows that we will never be perfect, and that's why he needed to send Jesus, to be perfect for us. And he doesn't want us to give the leftover scraps of our day to him, like we would give the food we don't want to our dogs. He wants to be our friend, our provider, our Father. He doesn't want religion out of us, he wants a relationship. To know and be known by us. He is after our hearts, and that is why he tells us his name. He is a personal God, here with us, by our side, and so he shares what many keep hidden, because he loves us and he trusts us.
So what is in a name? To know and be known, that is what is in a name.