Do you ever think about your name? Where it came from? What people think when they hear it?
Some experiences in my life have kept me thinking about names. In the state of Utah, it is not unusual to have towns named after people in the Book of Mormon. I heard of a tourist couple who were driving through Utah and commenting on the unusual names of the towns. As they saw Nephi on the map, the wife said, “Do you suppose that is Nep-high?” Her husband responded, “Perhaps Neffy,” They decided to stop for lunch, and when they were finished, the gentleman asked one of the workers, “Tell us how to pronounce the name of this place.” The worker responded, “Burger King.”
Have you ever had someone mispronounce your name? I would guess that even though we each try to overlook such an error when it occurs, that it always feels a little disappointing that the person doesn’t really know you, or perhaps has not given you much careful consideration.
Names are always important, and names have meaning. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, naming is a priesthood ordinance, and it comes with a blessing. It is significant that we are known by the name our parents choose for us “on the records of the Church” and throughout our mortal lives. This given name has importance in all the priesthood ordinances, including the endowment and the sealing temple ordinances.
Just as a little child starts to develop a sense of identity as he or she repeatedly hears a name, I believe our names are important to our identity always. As a young mother I returned to take a class from the university I had previously attended and found naturally that things were very much changed from the time when I had begun my studies. I didn’t know anyone. One day one of my past professors came into the room, noticed me, and said, “Janette Callister, how nice to see you.” She turned to my current professor and said she remembered me as a good student. I still remember the good feeling I had that somebody really knew me and remembered me for good.
I also remember well the day my first granddaughter was blessed and named Emily Janette. Her parents had chosen to give her my name. At baptism Emily will take upon herself the name of Jesus Christ. That responsibility and blessing becomes a new identity for each one of us at baptism. I believe we have to make a conscious effort to strengthen our identity with our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Recently a young woman wrote to me with concerns about her progress. She wrote, “I have been wondering about making it back to our Heavenly Father. … I feel if I don’t make it even when I try my hardest, it will be the biggest disappointment. I guess you could say I have little faith. Little everything is more like it. You asked us what is the biggest problem facing the [young people] in the Church today. Among the answers some gave were drugs, alcohol, things like that. While those, along with teenage pregnancies, are rich among the community, I don’t think that those are the main problems. … To me, I see struggling to know who we are; struggling to know the truth; wanting to be loved and cherished for what we do; needing lots of hugs and ‘I love you’s’; needing to feel needed.”
Sometimes we feel our faith is “little” when it is really just young and inexperienced. Sometimes when we add a long list of emotional needs to our need to know who we are, we confuse the issue. Focusing on finding ways to strengthen your personal identity will very likely help get some of the other needs met in the proper time. You do strengthen your identity with our Heavenly Father when you practice doing the things He has asked you to do.
How can you strengthen your own personal identity? I can tell you how in three simple words. Do good things! Or, Keep the commandments! Or, Do more good! Love one another! Serve one another! Keep a journal! Three words can mean so much. Be more Christlike!
In the Church we learn about our identity very young in our families. In family home evening and in Primary we sing, “I am a child of God.” Children strengthen their identity as they learn to follow rules: “be nice, don’t hit, help Mommy.” But then it becomes more complex: “say you’re sorry, tell the truth, do your homework, forgive your brother, say your prayers.”
As we grow and live and learn, as we love and serve one another, we understand how our choices, our behavior, help us become who we are. Alma warned his son Corianton that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). He teaches him that the kind of person or the identity he develops in this life is the identity he will have in the resurrection.
The old saying “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” is probably not true. We should use respectful names and respect the proper names of others. Our Heavenly Father would expect that of us. As the Lord has told us, He will not hold those guiltless who take His name in vain. The Lord has also told us that He will not forsake those that know His name and trust in Him (see Ps. 9:9–10).
Finally, may we remember as we partake of the sacrament each Sunday the great blessing it is to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. Listen to the words that we covenant with our Eternal Father, “that [we] are willing to take upon [us] the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given [us], that we may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (Moro. 4:3). May we strengthen our identity with our Heavenly Father and remember that we have taken upon ourselves the name of His Son is my prayer.
When George Albert Smith was in his later years he had the following experience:
“I became so weak as to be scarcely able to move. It was a slow and exhausting effort for me even to turn over in bed.
“One day, under these conditions, I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. …
“… I saw a man coming towards me … and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather. … I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.
“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then—and this I would like the … young people never to forget—he looked at me … and said:
“‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’
“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen—everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:
“‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’
“He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was as wet as though water had been poured on it—wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed” (George Albert Smith, Sharing the Gospel with Others, 1948, p. 111).