What’s In A Name?


What’s your name? My name is Scott. Yours might be Dave, or Sandy, or Jack, or Lynn. Everyone has a name. (Well​almost everyone. For a while Prince Rogers Nelson, aka “Prince,” called himself a symbol.) But what does having a name mean? Is your name really nothing more than a way for people to get your attention? Is it only a means to differentiate you from someone else in the room? (That can be important to my sons who are twins.) Is it just a way for you to sign a document saying, “I read this” or “I approve this”? What’s in a name?

Intuitively, we all understand that a person’s name is much more than a label. As a person’s identity and character solidifies during the course of their life, their name becomes synonymous with that character. For example, just reading the following names will most certainly evoke strong impressions of character and values in your mind:

  • Marilyn Monroe
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Mother Teresa
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Martin Luther King
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Winston Churchill
  • Bill Gates
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Mahatma Gandhi

Those are the first ten entries from the “List of Top 100 Famous People” at BiographyOnline.net. They all happen to be people with a positive legacy. What kind of impressions do you get from names like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao, and Saddam Hussein? Quite different, right?

What’s in a name? A lot!

I was reading this week about the Biblical character Jacob. He was a twin. His brother was Esau. When their mother, Rebekah, carried them in her womb, they struggled with each other (Genesis 25:22). When it came time to deliver, Esau was born first and when Jacob came out, he was holding Esau’s heel! Isaac and Rebekah named him Jacob because the word means “heel catcher,” or “trickster,” or “supplanter.” Indeed, if you read Jacob’s life story you’ll discover he was a very crafty, even deceptive person. He tricked and sneaked his way through life.

However, an important event occurred later in Jacob’s life. One night he wrestled with one of God’s angels all through the night. It was an intense battle and Jacob held the upper hand until the angel was able to dislocate Jacob’s hip. Even still, Jacob would not relent, but he said he would release the angel if he would bless Jacob:

So [the angel] said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” And [the angel] said, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.” (The whole story is in Genesis 32:22-32).

“Israel” means “wrestles with God.” The trickster became the God wrestler. His identity was changed and to prove it was an act of God, Israel’s hip didn’t heal. He continued to walk with a limp.

In most cultures today, we don’t choose names that convey specific meaning or call upon a family history intended to mark that person’s life. This is particularly true in the United States where there are still strong values of independence, self-reliance, and “making a name for yourself.” Nevertheless, as your life story develops and your character becomes known, your name begins to mean something.

What does your name mean?

I’m not asking you about the baby-name-book definition. One Web site says that “Scott” refers to someone from Scotland. Another says it means wanderer. I’m not Scottish and I’m not a wanderer, so that’s not helpful. However, ask my family members and close friends “What does Scott stand for? What is important in his life?” Then, you’ll find out what “Scott” means.

What about your name? What does it (you!) stand for? What is the legacy that you leave behind when someone hears your name?

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo “What’s in a name?” by Jack Dorsey. Available at Flickr.com.

One thought on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Excellent blog, Mr Yorkovich! My name, Amy, means friendly and I have no doubt that most people would say that is my essence. More importantly, however, in time to come – when my name is spoken to my children’s children – I want them to remember a loving, Godly woman who wanted nothing more than to see her children walk with the Lord. It’s the only lasting legacy that my husband and I can leave them.

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