The Names we use Matter
Our second granddaughter finally has a name. Born over a month ago, her parents took their sweet, merry time before committing it to official record.
In the interim, this bonny lass (her father is of Irish-Scottish descent) ‘tried on’ a dozen names before the right fit was found. Her name, Theresa Mairead, links her to ancestors on both sides of the family.
After finding out whether it’s a boy or a girl, a baby’s name is the most important information announced to the child’s extended community. Although the weight, head circumference and duration of labour are frequently cited, it is the sex and the name that persist in relevance to family and friends.
Naming our children is one of the great privileges of parenthood. Although some families and cultures have traditions regarding the handing down of certain family names, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, this is seen as the right and responsibility of parents.
In his letter on the ‘Joy of Love’ Pope Francis asserts: “God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity” (Amoris Laetitia, n166).
That really puts it into perspective: the naming rights of our children is given by God – it’s a sacred duty of parents. Moreover, the name we chose for our children, is the name by which God will know and call them… for eternity!
That’s worth contemplating: God knows each of us by name and loves us eternally. The dignity and honour that comes with a name speaks to our value and place in the divine plan.
Parents always worry how the name we have so carefully chosen for our child will be shortened, lengthened or otherwise altered in the playground. Francine’s grandparents tried to avoid this by naming her father a very short name – ‘Roy’ – but alas, his new Australian mates nicknamed him ‘Roysten’ when he migrated here as a teenager.
Then there are the substitute names we adopt as terms of endearment like ‘honey’, ‘buddy’, ‘darling’ and inexplicably, ‘pumpkin’ or ‘possum’. The use of these names indicates a relationship of intimacy and familiarity.
We too have a range of nicknames we call each other. These terms of endearment have evolved over our thirty-five years together and are used to express our affection.
No one else calls us by those names so their use is like a shorthand code for “you are special to me”. It’s a lovers’ secret language, unique to us – so we’re definitely not sharing them here!
Names that hurt
Nick names can also communicate something other than a blessing. When names like “stupid”, “jerk” or worse are used, even in jest, they can leave a residue of doubt – does my spouse truly honour and cherish me?
Psychologists class ‘name-calling’ as a form of verbal abuse. They note that people often resort to name-calling during arguments, especially if the logic of their point of view is weak or they feel cornered.
When we sense that we are ‘losing the argument’, name-calling redirects attention away from our opinion to challenge the character of the other. We see this happening a lot in public discourse these days, but it also happens in intimate relationships.
Whether it’s deliberate or simply a subconscious reaction, the impact is damaging to our spouse and our relationship. It undermines our intimacy and erodes our trust.
Sustained, destructive name-calling is a sign that contempt is creeping into a relationship. It’s presence in a marriage predicts serious trouble.
If negative name-calling has become habitual in our marriage, it’s time to change course. Name-calling is a learned behaviour and we can unlearn it if we put our mind to it.
Names matter. Your spouse’s name is the name by which God knows and loves them. Your own name is also precious to God.
What we call each other and how we address each other impacts the sense of trust and safety in our relationship. Let’s make the names we use for each other a blessing.