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.