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The Importance of Names

“...and you shall call his name YESHUA (meaning Salvation): for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Yeshua in ancient Hebrew script

The Hebrew word for “soul” is ‘neshamah’. Central to that word, the middle two letters, Shin and Mem, make the word ‘shem’, Hebrew for “name”. They say, here in Israel, that your name is the key to your soul.

Names are a book. They tell a story, often the story of our spiritual potential as well as our life’s mission. Some sources tell us that when we complete our years on this earth and face heavenly judgment, one of the most powerful questions we will be asked at the outset, is: “What is your name and did you live up to it?” For instance, my birth name is Sharon. It means, “a fertile and fruitful valley,” the name of a plain in Israel. As believers, we are all called to this. Our commission is:

Go and bear fruit... (John 15:16).

My grandmother told my mother: “This little girl will be a blessing.” I have tried to live up to my name but of course, like so many of us, wish I could do so much more!

Jewish sources tell us that God used names not for the sake of identification in the beginning, but rather for creation. He spoke; and the very words describing the object came into being. The Almighty merely gave it a name, and the very letters defined its atomic structure. Names came before the existence of those things with which they would subsequently be identified. When Abram came to the realization of monotheism, his name had to be changed. See Genesis 17:5.

The change of identity required a change of identification. When Jacob, whose name came from the root word meaning “heel” - which so perfectly suited someone whose approach to the problems of life was always flight - suddenly realized he had to fight rather than flee, the angel informed him:

“Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:28)

A traumatic lifestyle change brings with it a new personal description. The Children of Israel were redeemed from Egypt; God took note of their suffering and ensured their survival. They were imperfect in many ways, but they did not change their names, their language, or their mode of dress. They remained true to themselves. The Bible tells us: “As his name is, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25). We will forever leave behind our names as a final legacy. Does that mean we are predestined to live lives circumscribed by something beyond our control? Are we doomed to play out roles handed to us by our parents while we were infants? Is our free will limited by our names? Of course not. We emphasize the principle of freedom of choice. Our names do not force us to be what we are. It is what we are that transmits itself, in a profoundly prophetic manner, to those entrusted with the holy task of choosing our names. It is a message from God, entrusted to our name-givers, in order to help us define our mission on earth. Our names outlive us; let’s do everything in our power to make them be remembered for a blessing.

First published in February 2020, written by Sharon Sanders


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