Day 37: The Act of Naming
BY ED SLOANE | March 30, 2023
Naming is an act that is both sacred and powerful. Parents often give deep thought to a child’s name. Our name might connect us to an ancestor, role model, or saint. Its meaning might express a personal quality or value our parents hope to instill in us. Naming emotional states and conditions can also help us sort through and process experiences, events, and relationships in our lives, which can enable us to take control of, or move past, difficult circumstances.
An act of naming is at the center of today’s first reading. God gives Abram the new name Abraham. This name change is a sign that marks God’s covenant with Abraham. A covenant is a special kind of relationship different in kind from a contract. While both are marked by promises or commitments, contracts have a utilitarian quality. In a covenant, the parties are transformed. However, covenants do not so much make us into new persons; rather, they are agreements or promises that allow us to be more fully who we already are in the eyes of another.
As the moderator of the LGBTQ+ student groups at the school where I teach, I have been blessed to know many trans young people, some of whom have trusted me by sharing a preferred name. Trans folks give much thought to the names they choose for themselves. Perhaps it is the name of a beloved grandparent, a role model, or the name they would have received if they had been assigned the correct gender at birth. For trans people of faith, these names are often chosen through a process of deep prayer and discernment.
A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. To affirm someone’s chosen name is a holy and sacramental act because we are celebrating them as they become more fully aware of the person they already are in the eyes of God.
- What does your name—given or chosen—say about who you are and your relationships to yourself, God, and others?
- Have you ever witnessed or been a part of an act of naming? How was the name discerned?
Ed Sloane is originally from West Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in religious education and pastoral ministry at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. His writing focuses on approaches to education in faith through the lens of ecological justice and pastoral ministry with LGBTQIA+ youth. Ed is also a high school theology teacher.
Muchas gracias por tu comentario sobre el nombrar y la relación que hace con los sacramentos. Me ha dado un momento de reflexión interior agradable y buena. Bueno, feliz pascua de Resurrección.
Ed, thank you for this relevant and powerful reflection in these trying times. Peace
Amen. Very beautiful. I love knowing the meaning/story behind a person’s name.
I was meant to be called Margaret but a family tragedy meant a change. I was born on Corpus Christi, hence Christine. My surname could be related to ancestors being dedicated to Mary. They also refused to give up their Catholic faith during the Reformation. I’m called to be a woman of faith and to do my best to bring God’s love to the world.
Our grandchild, who is about to turn 14 on April 19, has selected the name Finn because they felt called to change the given birth name to better represent who they believe themself to be. When our daughter, with their permission, first shared what they were experiencing, both my husband and I were surprised, but it did not lessen the love and acceptance we both have for our grandchild who is so spontaneous and clever. Sometimes my husband and I slip up with the chosen pronouns “they, them and their,” but even worse, I used their birth name rather the chosen name a couple of weeks ago as a result of my lack of focus in the moment. I believe their reaction was one which still causes them to avoid contact with me though I did express my great regret about the incident. I am not angry or even antagonized by this situation; I am just really sad.The mistakes that my husband and I make in the use of pronouns are the results of habits and poor memory, but your comments reflect why these occasions, and in particular the use of the birth name instead of their chosen name are so hurtful to our grandchild. I just pray that they will recognize that our mistakes do not represent less love and acceptance of who they are.
Nice article. Contains profound ingredients for consideration. Thanks.