When people hear your name, what is their first response? Is it a negative reaction like “ewww,” or “uck,” or something better, like “yay!”? Another way of asking it, is “how will your name be remembered?” Names are a big part of the Book of Ruth which begins and ends with names. Thanks to the Book of Ruth the names of Naomi and Ruth have been remembered for generations. Will your name be remembered? For the right reasons?
Let us consider Naomi whose name literally means “pleasant.” However, Naomi herself asked to be renamed “Mara” in chapter one which means “bitter.” However, by the end of the book, Naomi can be known as pleasant again. This change for Naomi is something available to us as well. We don’t need to be saddled with an identity we started with, or one we picked up along the way. What our names bring to mind can be changed.
Let us also consider Ruth. People might immediately think of Ruth as being a Moabite. She therefore bore the label “disliked-foreigner,” since Moabites were not particularly liked in that day and place. However, by chapter two, we find that Ruth has a different reputation:
10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”
11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. Ruth 2:10-11 (NLT)
Boaz saw in Ruth something more than a Moabite!
By the end of the book the women of Bethlehem know Ruth, not as a Moabite, but as “your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” (Ruth 4:15 NLT). She has also come to be known as the great-grandmother of David, and ancestor of Jesus. Not only is she welcomed into the people of God as a foreigner, she is part of the family tree of God-the-Son! The label “Moabite” still fits, but there are other labels.
What your name brings to mind can be challenged, like Ruth. For Ruth, the first thing, and only thing coming to someone’s mind might be “ug, a Moabite.” But later it is a kind and good woman, who happens to be a Moabite. Moabite would always be part of her identity, appropriately so. However, “disliked foreigner” does not become the main part of her identity. It does not define how people relate to her.
Have you had a label stuck on you? Might it be something that may always be true? Like Ruth, you can open minds to a different perception, a different starting place for relationship. Whatever happens to be true about us need not be the only thing others perceive. For the early part of my life I wore the label “extremely shy.” I may as well have had that label on my forehead, or worse, on the inside of my glasses, where I would be reminded constantly of my shy identity. However, over the years I have been able to move that label. It still fits me, and I still wear it, but not on my forehead, or on the inside of my glasses. If you are an alcoholic or addict, that label may stick with you the rest of your life. But it need not be the first thing people see you as. Our labels can be moved. People’s perception of our identity can be challenged. What labels might we be wearing that need to move?
Now let us consider the genealogies of the the Book of Ruth which begins with the names of Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Kilion, Orpah, and Ruth. It begins with names that had little significance as the story begins. However, their names become associated later in the book with Obed, Jessie, David, and eventually later in the Bible, Jesus. The Book ends with names that evoke fame and fond remembrance for many generations.
Your name may not bring to mind a great and famous family. There are rumours within our family that my great-grandfather was a quite-famous English nobleman, a very accomplished and well known individual. However, if true, then he was not very noble! I’ll stick with the not-at-all-famous “Dixon” name thank you very much. However our names can bring to mind a great family, with a great inheritance:
12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. John 1:12-13 (NLT)
In Jesus we are given the right to be children of God, to be in God’s family. What a family!
What does your name bring to mind? Whatever your name evokes right now, it can be a name which is honourable and honoured. You can be God’s child and so become marked and moved by the Holy Spirit, maturing into a family resemblance:
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. . . Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
When people hear your name, is their first response “I know him, he is loving!”? Or, “I know her, she is joyful!”? Or, “That person is peaceable, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, or self-controlled.”? When people hear your name, what is their first response?