I don’t remember how old I was when I learned that names have meaning — probably grade school. But I do remember that the first thing I wanted to know was what my name meant.

There was no Google (a number of almost infinite size, which is not just about the information they provide but also about the information they collect) then. How does anyone know anything without search engines?

I went to the library and found a book of names. Mine meant “Famous Warrior.” Naturally I liked that. It did not occur to me to ask my parents how they knew I would be a famous warrior. Nor did I ask if they hoped I would be a warrior at all. I didn’t even ask why they chose Lewis, because I liked it.

Other names

We often name things to indicate their use or purpose. Tools are very much in that category — even in the collective. Individually think of hammer, saw, level, wrench and you know what they are made to do.

In America we have the Constitution. It wasn’t called that because it sounds lofty, but because by definition it is “the basic written set of principles and precedents of federal government in the United States.”

Still today we have names for virtually every Act that is proposed as law in the United States, just as they did in England and do in most democracies.

And I am very impressed with some of the names.

For instance, the Respect for Marriage Act (now a law) repealed and replaced the Defense of Marriage Act. Just by looking at the names, could you see any difference? Was it just a name change?

Which word (respect or defense) do you like better? One is certainly softer, and it has that whole Aretha (R-E-S-P-E-C-T) thing going for it. One takes a stand, one opens doors. Too many doors, some say.

Do you know what the Stamp Act was? If you said “something to do with stamps,” you would be wrong, but you would be forgiven. That was a law passed by the British Parliament requiring colonists to pay a tax on newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, and even playing cards!

So be careful when you hear some new Act being proposed by your state or federal legislature. The name may mean something quite different than what it implies.

Serious names

Most of the names we’ve talked about so far are specific to one person or one item, so it is fairly easy to know if that name is appropriate.

Today a lot of serious name calling is being done, and in most cases it is being done in broad swaths. Sometimes it includes virtually everyone in a particular group.

Are all Republicans idiots? Of course not, nor are all Democrats. A generalization like that should sway no one’s opinion, let alone belief. Consequently, it is the kind of thing that should never be said and if it is, never repeated.

A popular name for one group today is racists. The group is every white male in America. To protest is, some insist, to prove that you are racist. Now it may be that some white male reading this is a racist, but it is not true that every white male reading this, let alone every white male, is racist.

Another generalization that has gained popularity in the past decade is that all police are vindictive and dangerous, especially to the black population. The killing of George Floyd, both terrible and senseless, was used to fire the rhetoric and it has taken root.

There are bad actors in the police, and they need to be weeded out, but what about the police who are killed in the line of duty? Does that make all citizens dangerous and vindictive? No.

Calling groups of people something that denigrates all of them is silly and childish. Individuals should be named based on their own lives. If someone really is a racist, call that person a racist. How do you know who is and who isn’t? I suggest the MLK formula: “Not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Using the wrong name

Recently two married gay men who are known activists were charged with heinous crimes against their adopted sons. Both boys are special needs, and were in the third and fourth grades when their fathers were arrested last summer.

The two men are charged with incest, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, felony sexual exploitation of children and felony prostitution of a minor.

The name for that is evil. No other name suffices.

Nola with Devan Bonagura

Also recently Devan Bonagura noticed an elderly lady who was working at Walmart and appeared to be tired. He posted a short video of her on TikTok with the line, “Life shouldn’t have to be this hard.” The post went viral and touched a lot of people, some of whom suggested he start a GoFundMe account to help her financially.

He did, and in just 24 hours $100,000 had been donated! In not much longer, the amount reached $200,000, which allowed 82 year old Nola to pay off her mortgage, stop working, and enjoy retirement.

The name for that is good.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” That is exactly what we are seeing today, and clearly people have been doing it for a long time.

Too many people, I fear, have allowed themselves to be called by a false name and are beginning to get used to it. Do not accept a name, either good or evil, that does not apply to you. And be very careful when you are naming someone with anything other than their given name.

Ultimately, make sure you are never calling evil good and good evil. God doesn’t like that, and neither should you.

Do good with names. It’s in you.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Roger Beutler

    So well written. Language and words matter. How we achieve clarity in our relationships with our ‘fellow man’ starts with an expectation of an open mind seeking a degree of mutual understanding, and good regard. Louis always hit a high standard in his commentary.

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