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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Salter Goodwin

What Does Your Name Mean?

I tried to change my name once. I started writing a new name on my papers at school until my teacher told me I couldn’t. I think that’s when I understood that my name was something permanent, indelible, not to be tampered with.

I know names hold a meaning that grows into something more than vowels and consonants. What does a name mean to the one wears it?

I met a woman recently who told me her name was weird. I thought it was beautifully unique. She contradicted every positive response I made. And I wondered, what grew from wearing her belief that her name was weird.

My given name is Deborah. It has a hard sound with explosive consonants. And yes, it can match emotional tirades when I feel cornered or misunderstood. My parents liked the name because it was biblical. I like it because Deborah was one of the few female poets in the Bible. I am thinking prophetic. . .hopefully.

My middle name is a marriage of my parents’ names: Marlene. Marl comes from my Dad—Marlow. It was his one and only name. He didn’t have a middle name. On applications asking for such, he wrote none. We laughed at official mail that came to Marlow None Salter. The second syllable of my name is ene. It comes from my mother’s name, Imogene, pronounced with a long i. I had an argument with a friend who told me we pronounced my mother’s name incorrectly. She said it should be a short vowel as in ih not eye! Just goes to show that people get pesky about names.

But wh

at does it mean? Look Deborah up in a name book and it means “bee.” I like to think of the carefree flitting of bees nestling into the sweet pollen of flowers and spreading possibilities of more flowers. Or bees making honey, something sweet. But of course, I cannot deny they sting; I just don’t want to talk about it.

What has my name brought me? I don’t find my personality in this name. I can feel my dad rising up inside me when I confront illogical processes or bureaucracy that defeats before it helps. I can feel my mother’s insecurity in a crowd, her desire for quiet beauty, her need for peace. None of that comes from my name.

And yet, my name means something. I recognize it only when it is spelled correctly. Spell it wrong and I see an imposter. I hear it in a crowd and turn toward the voice that sent it to see if I know the sender. I know I am more than a name, but I wonder if I had been called Elizabeth, would I be the same person?

I am especially interested in how God names. Somehow I don’t think he waited for my parents to figure out my name. If he knew me before conception, knew me as I was formed, still nameless for this world; what did he call me? Embryo five trillion three hundred thousand, thirty-one? Protoplasmic miracle of day whatever? Do I know his name for me?

I have written on this subject, researched the meaning of names, explored the Bible mysteries that come

from names and their effect on whole generations. I encounter this subject again as I dig through Sarah’s story in Genesis to rewrite a book proposal in search of a publisher. Fresh from this morning’s writing, I cannot help but personalize the questions. Who am I, named or not? Do I become someone with my name or was I already that person waiting to burst into being? Who holds the key to me?

Consider your name and what it means to you. Think about how much more there is to you than just your name. Who tells you who you are? Which messages hold truth?

Names. We all have them. But what do they mean?

Discovery waits.

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