I was running from work to an early start for my Tuesday evening grad class, but over a quick bowl of soup I glanced at the newspaper and was immediately arrested by the headline: “Living a Life Unknown.”
The feature story was a detailed report on the dozens of John and Jane Does who turn up each year at Illinois police stations and hospitals. Most are identified, but the five people profiled in this story have not been. No one knows their names. I studied the face of an older woman known only as “Seven Doe “ – age unknown – who has been in state care for nearly 10 years. Commented another resident at the Chicago facility where Seven lives, “If it’s possible for a person to be nobody, I think this is it.”
It’s hard to imagine waking up each day without a single living family member or friend who cares about you. No social security number. No permanent address. No name.
Names matter. During my pregnancies, Mike and I spent hours mulling over just the right monikers for our kids. Adam Wallem was easy – our first man-child and one who would carry my family name as well.
When Amber Elizabeth was born, we were still deliberating over our final three picks until my obstetrical team pointed out her deep brown baby hair with golden streaks and said, “Just look at her. She’s Amber!” And so she was, with my grandmother’s name added.
And when it came to our second son, Jordan Michael, the choice was easy.
Names matter a great deal. The gospel of John records the famous conversation when the future apostle Andrew first brought his brother Simon to meet Jesus.
Jesus looked intently at Simon and said, “Your name is Simon, son of John – but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).
Simon was well known in the gospels not for his faith but his failings. Yet when the Messiah studied Simon’s face, he didn’t see Simon for what he was. He saw in him what he would one day become: Peter – the rock.
Names convey value.
Dr. Michael Halleen illustrates this principle from the musical “Man of LaMancha” based on Cervantes’ story of Don Quixote.
“The hero greets Aldonza, a crude woman of the streets, as though she were a queen. He gives her a beautiful new name, Dulcinea. Tough and cynical, she responds with skepticism, yet gradually starts to become the good person he believes her to be. She sings,
Can’t you see what your gentle insanities do to me?
Rob me of anger and give me despair.
Blows and abuse I can take and give back again;
Tenderness I cannot bear.
“At the end of the play Don Quixote lies dying, confused and unaware. Aldonza pleads with him to remember her name. Is it so important, he wonders?
“Everything!” she says. “My whole life! Once you found a girl and called her Dulcinea, and when you spoke her name, the angels seemed to whisper, Dulcinea, Dulcinea!”
Names matter. The one you’ve been given, the one you make for yourself, and the name bespoke by angels that God alone knows.
Is it truly possible for a person to be “nobody?” Not in God’s sight. He knows who the beautiful Chicago resident called “Seven Doe” truly is.
And He knows your name too.
“I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17