Throughout history, there have been names whose very utterance was ill-advised or even dangerous. Either the names were holy and ineffable—beyond our right or ability to speak them—or so despicable that the mere sound of the name might recall unmentionable evil. (In the first case, think YAWEH or Mohammed. In the second case, remember names like the fictional Lord Voldemort, Adolf Hitler or Dear Leader.)
Because names have power, I treat them with the respect they deserve. Reverence for the special, sacred names requires me to keep them close to my heart, never abused. But if part of naming is to revive memories of unspeakable horror or wickedness, I don’t want to resurrect even the slightest possibility that that person would be remembered in any way.
In this season of waiting, another name-speaking option comes to mind: There are also names that we must speak of. Repeating them with emphasis, recalling their sounds with joy, wrapping those titles, nicknames or honorifics into our daily thoughts and conversations. So that these names remain admired examples of God’s power.
It’s Advent soon, so the obvious example is Jesus. Jeshua. Joshua. “The Lord saves.” When I pile together all the wonderful emotions that assemble around Jesus’ name at this time of year, it’s close to overwhelming. All that God’s people have hoped for—about to be realized again. All that his followers want to emulate—wrapped up into his life story. All that I want to accomplish with my own named-life—instructed by Jesus’ teachings.
During these difficult days, I want to keep remembering—and using—Jesus’ name. Not as magical talisman or cloying symbol of Christianity, but as something powerful and holy for my life.
As for the unspeakable names—may they be always trumped by Jesus!