The process of naming, whether a child, a well, or a place, holds much significance in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Traditionally, a name conferred on a place was chosen to memorialize the events that had happened there. In Genesis 35:15, the Jewish patriarch Jacob names the place where God spoke to him “Bethel”, or “house of God.”
Even more significantly, names were given to signify a person’s calling or purpose. In Genesis 17:5, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham, or “high father” to “father of many”. Jabez, the man from 1 Chronicles 4 whose mother named him the equivalent of “sorrow” or “trouble”, was branded from birth as a bearer of pain. It would be like a mother in our day and age naming her son or daughter “annoyance” or “bad luck”.
The good news is that names can change.
When I asked a homeless man if he needed a home for any of his dogs and he let take a scrawny, underweight puppy with me, my partner and I were given the chance to change a life. That first night, we found ourselves just praying that the little pup would live – she was so skinny and weak that she could barely get to her feet and she whined when we came near her.
She did come around and make some progress, and we started trying out names for her. My partner and I thought about Bailey, Phoebe, Matilda, and Shakira, but nothing had the right ring to it. The moment that my partner said “Zoe” I knew that was the winner. It instantly took me back to Bible studies on John 10:10, where Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (NASB). “Zoe”, of course, means life to the fullest, blessed by God. We decided on that name as a claim on life, and every time I call our puppy I am calling her “abundant life”.
I believe there is power in our words, and as our Zoe has started filling out and living up to her name as a rambunctious, curious puppy, I see that we can orchestrate positive self-fulfilling prophecies.
Before a goal is undertaken, name it as a triumph. As you set out on a journey, name it as a chance to grow instead of an obligation or a misfortune. Changing the way we label the people, places, and situations in our lives changes their roles and can even determine our destinations. A difficult workplace is my arena of ministry – a place to practice daily surrender to God’s will. A painful situation, illness, or disability can become one of your greatest assets if you allow that possibility to crowd out the weeds of bitterness and resignation. My wounds are only healed as far as I use them to heal others, as only one alcoholic can reach another alcoholic, as only one veteran can understand another, as only one widow can comfort another. If we change the name, we can change the story. We can live in abundant life.