March 15 – Call Me Bill: What’s in a Name?

The new pope has decided to be called Francis, Francisco in his native Spanish. Turns out the odds makers hadn’t much considered the possibility. You could have gotten 33:1 odds on Jorge Mario Bergoglio being the new pope, but no one was even considering Francis. The church, Catholic, Presbyterian or otherwise, lives by “we’ve always done it that way,” and in 266 previous papacies no one had done Francis. Maybe this is a good sign.

There’s not always been a name change when a person becomes pope. But it’s been that way for a long time. Long enough to count as always having done it that way. So they’ve “always done it that way,” and there is something nice about the tradition. By his new name the new pope says declares  his hopes for his leadership of the church.

By all accounts, Francis the pope is a humble man, modest and kind. He picked Francis after Saint Francis, a humble man, modest and kind (who we love to misquote).

It’s a nice tradition, this name changing. There is Biblical precedence from Abram and Sarai who became Abraham and Sarah, to Simon who became Peter and Saul who became Paul. To a lesser extent some of us go from being Jenny to Jennifer or Jimmy to Jim as we grow older and less Jenny or Jimmy like.

But for the most part most of us just become the name we were given, in some ways defining it for those around us. Bill, of course, is a nickname for William a derivative of the German Wilhelm, the helm part having to do with “helmet,” so those meaning of names books and sites often say my name means “protector.” Maybe hard hat or hard head is the modern equivalent.  I found one site that says my name means “brilliant.” I had never heard that before, but I like it. Brilliant Bill. Well, maybe not.

Names are important. I’ve always been Bill and never liked Billy, but Will and William are fine. “You” or “hey you” don’t work. I have a name. It means something, and to those whose lives touch mine it means much more than what the name books say. My name will mean protector only if I am willing to risk much for others. It will mean hard head if I let my stubborn will dominate. I doubt if it will ever mean brilliant, as much as I might like it to.

What’s in a name? A whole lot. Parents give us birth names and friends sometimes give us nicknames, but we are the ones to fill our names with meaning. If the new pope has been overbearing, proud and arrogant in his first 75 years of life, his new name is going to do nothing for him and may tarnish the name of the old saint.

We can find a meaning for our names in a name book or on any number of websites. But if we really want to know what our names mean, we’ll need to ask those whose lives touch ours. What’s in your name?

An angel told Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus, Joshua, a common name that meant “God saves.” Lots of little boys in Jesus’ time were named Jesus. But only one of them filled that name with its true meaning. That’s why “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

See you Sunday as we worship in his name