When my husband and I were anticipating the birth of our son, one of the most important, exciting and challenging decisions we faced as soon-to-be parents was choosing a name. Finding just the right name for a person is no small task. We wanted a name that resonated with our family heritage, one that was easy to recognize and spell, yet not too common. For some reason it was important to me that he not have a name that could not be shortened. I know a Michael or two who do not like being called Mike. That was a lot to consider. Then family members wanted to jump in with their two cents. Opinions were not welcome! My feelings were that if they wanted to name a baby, they could go birth one themselves. Inquiries to know the names that made it to the “short list” were not satisfied either. We didn’t want our choice slanted by outside influence. What our child would be called was up to us alone. Bothered by constant inquiries we finally made up a couple of names. “If it’s a boy, Rufus. If it’s a girl, Babette.” Those names have stuck with us. We recently attended a murder mystery dinner theater and needed fake names, so my husband and I were Rufus and Babette for the night.
Finally, after much time and consideration, and the foreknowledge that we were having a boy, we chose the name Craig. Familiar, but not common. Easy to spell. Cannot be shortened. (Ironically, we lengthen it and call him Craiggers or Craigerkins. Go figure!) It’s also a name that reflects who he is, celebrating his Scottish heritage. I had a concern that his name, which means “one who dwells in a crag,” would be bothersome to him. A valid concern from a mom whose name means “one who is lonely.” No worries there for Craig. The meaning of his name actually turned into a great bonus from Craig’s perspective since he has a profound love of all things dragon.
Names are important. What we call ourselves matters. What we are called by others matters. This week I am at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Dallas. It is a great blend of theological debate as well as practical application workshops shared by 150 participants from around the world. People with special needs are one of the most diverse segments of the population. Typically, when referring to any group of people, you want to use the language with which they refer to themselves. For some, they prefer the term “disabled,” while others cringed. “Special needs” resonates with some, while others prefer “special abilities.” One person said she preferred to apply the term “handicapped” to herself. My son refers to what I used to call his “learning differences” as his “learning disability.” For those whose bodies function more typically, I was introduced by Dr. Amos Yong to the concept of being “temporarily able-bodied.” Point well made! In whatever capacity our bodies are functioning today, there is a good likelihood that given time they will come to function differently. Thinking of myself as temporarily able-bodied offers a new lens that increases my awareness of my own vulnerability.
Hearing the various perspectives around the room, I wonder if a person who experiences a difference in the function of their body puts as much care into how they name that for themselves as Mark and I put into naming our son Craig. Given the strength of opinions, I will say that many do. It’s a naming that needs to be honored for each individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” As a parent I would not accept a name for my child that was imposed by the outside. Nor did I let my child’s life be defined by the names (labels) that come with the journey of special needs.
Names matter and I apply that in my prayer life praying to Loving God, Gracious God, Healing God, Leading God, Nurturing God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In an endless number of names I call on God and trust in God’s attentive presence to my prayers. God is so much more than just one name. When Moses asked God his name so that he could tell the slaves in Egypt who sent him to free them from captivity, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14 NRSV).
God is all things and cannot be defined by one name. In that we are made in the image of God, that is an important facet in the quality of God that is empowering to take on for ourselves and for our children. We are wonderfully made, even in the midst of our many unique expressions and differences. We are who we are, transcending the labels with which others may seek to define us.