On Being Named

A South African, who is Zulu, once asked me what my  name meant. I replied that my name did not have a meaning. I was named after an aunt. It had never occurred to me to wonder about the meaning of my name beyond that fact.

Recently, though, I have been considering Africanizing my middle name, in the way that the Hebrew Yeshua became the Latinized Jesus, or Mary, Italianized, becomes Maria. I would go from Anjeanette to Njaane.

To think about an African name, though, is to think about the meaning of the name. If I am going to have an African name, I must be prepared to share what my name means. Which is how I found myself looking up my  names’ meanings. What I discovered astonished and delighted me.

My first name, a re-spelling of Elise, from the Hebrew means either: “Oath of God,” or “God is my satisfaction.” The latter meaning, I thought, was highly appropriate.

It was the meaning of my name derived from the French, though, that truly arrested me.

It means, “Consecrated to God.”

I could not believe it when I read the words. My father named me, and was a Francophile, so the French derivation is certainly fitting.

I am consecrated to God. Of course I am. This is why I alone among my siblings committed to serving the Lord as a teenager. This is why I loved serving in the church much more than I ever cared about my professional life. This is why I left the practice of law to study theology. This is why I am seeking ordination in the church.

So astonished was I by the rightness of the meaning of my first name that I then looked up the meaning of my middle name, Anjeanette. This name is rare. In fact, I thought it might be something that my father came up with himself. I did not expect to find a meaning for it. But I did, and my heart was lit up by what I found.

Anjeanette means, “Gift of God’s favor.”

I don’t know if my parents understood my birth as a gift of God’s favor (seeing as how I was a bonus baby, and how they already had two little ones, born 11 months apart, at the time that I arrived 18 months after my sister, and how their marriage was coming undone at the time), but the name has proven true. My life has been a testament to the enduring gift of God’s favor. Favor that encompasses too much to list.

As I digested the significance of being named my names, I heard the voice of the Lord saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

Before Alease was born, she was consecrated to God and appointed to nations.

The truth that African peoples have always known has now been revealed to me. My identity is all wrapped up in my name.

 

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