They are one of the first repeated sounds that a baby hears and learns – and arguably the one vocalization that you hear more than any other in life.
Names are central to how we think of ourselves – that’s the underlying import of the verse in the Revelation to Saint John that God will give everyone who is redeemed a new name, known only to the person and to God.
And historically, knowing a person’s name was often thought to give one some amount of power over them.
Names are also central to how we think about others. Some people are so great an example of some characteristic that it’s connected with their name — for example, “Honest Abe” Lincoln, “Mother Teresa” for compassion.
One modern problem is that names for God are a bit iffy. One reason for this is the reticence actually to say a name for God — we substitute “Lord” or “God”, but those are titles, not names.
The old version of God’s name(in the Authorized or “King James”) translation of the Bible was “Jehovah”. We now know that “Jehovah” is a hybrid name, used because Hebrew didn’t have vowels. So the divine Name “YHWH” not only had consonantal shifts (Y to J, W to V), but had the vowels inserted from the title “Adonai” — the sequential vowels A-O-A inserted into JHVH gave“Jehovah”. Linguistic studies have basically shown that no Jew in Jesus’ time would have pronounced it as “Jehovah”.
Newer translations sometimes use “Yahweh” as the name of God. And there is a tradition which translates the name of God as “I am” – which is how “yhwh” is parsed in Hebrew. In parts of the US, people used “The Great I AM” as the name of God.
But what name should we use? Should we use it at all, sparingly, or every time we speak to or of God?
Image: Adam naming the animals, Theophanes of Crete (St. Nicholas Anapavsa Monastery, Meteora; 16th Century)