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Naming and Knowing

I’ve noticed some interesting trends in naming, particularly among millennials. Instead of choosing classic or so-old-they-are-new-again names, parents seem to make up new names through some sort of mash up, or use locations and brands as names. There also seems to be an interest in using radically different spellings of common names. Or extra capital letters. *

I am all for creativity and bestowing meaningful names on children. While I don’t have a problem with this naming trend per se, as an educator, I cannot help but cringe at many names. When looking at a class list in an educational setting, I cannot help but feel sympathy for the children who will need to pronounce (and possibly explain) their name to every teacher in every class for the duration of their educational careers, most social situations, and most work situations. When I was in college, I remember a number of class mates who had to explain the pronunciation of their names. This ranged from the straightforward to the bizarre. Apparently, “Buche” is pronounced “boo-ee,” and “Wiuff” is pronounced “view.” Perhaps only a linguist can interpret how and when the vowels and consonants veered off into an entirely new way of thinking. To be fair, I imagine some of the unique pronunciations have to do with names in other languages being modified or changed to fit a more ‘American’ style (whatever that means). I also recall, with some humor and empathetic embarrassment, the names of classmates such as Tom Kruse, Michael Jackson, Don King, and one of my personal favorites, William Tell. Some of their parents probably had a wry sense of humor, but most of them were probably named before their celebrity name counterparts became famous.

The mash-ups are particularly creative. Blogger Jessie Jensen pokes fun at Mormon names common in Utah. She explains the “mix-n-match” chart: choose a syllable from column A, choose a syllable from column B, and you have a name! Mix-n-match results in popular names such as Brynlee, Kyler, Kylar, Cayson, Kynlee, Jaelyn, Zaylee, Kaydri, and Brailee.

Not surprisingly, I prefer old names. Shocking for a historian, no? I remember when our oldest daughter was a small baby and friendly women in the grocery store would stop and coo at her and ask her name. Some of the women seemed to almost wince, afraid of what newfangled sort of name I might give them, and looked relieved when I said, “June.” Some asked if she was named for the month. No, I replied, she was born in September and named for my beloved Grandmother. Occasionally, my husband chimed in that June’s middle name was not Thursday. As if we had no idea we had a baby on the way and just looked at a calendar to choose her life-long moniker.

For us, naming our girls is important. I think most parents still take naming seriously.

Jerry Sitser, recently on NWC’s campus, explained the difference between being known and being loved. He read the passage of Psalm 139: 1-18, RSV:

O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;
thou discernest my thoughts from afar.
Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Thou dost beset me behind and before,
and layest thy hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high, I cannot attain it.
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee.
For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.
Wonderful are thy works!
Thou knowest me right well;
my frame was not hidden from thee,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;
in thy book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

According to Sitser, many people know us, but don’t really love us. Many others love us, but don’t really know us. But God both knows us and loves us. This is a unique type of knowing – an omniscient knowing and understanding. Christ’s incarnation demonstrates the way that God knows us, especially in the dark places. Jesus journeyed to the darkest of places on earth and knows us in our darkest places.

Whatever our earthly monikers, God knows and loves us. Names matter, but being known AND loved is the best kind of naming.



*Multiple capitalizations: TyLynn, BrynLee, LuWynn, LeRoy, TwilaLou
Celebrity-inspired: McCartney, Dempsey, Hesston, McGyver
Location: Boston, Brooklyn, Berkeley, Nazareth, Hudson, Dakota, Memphis
New/misspellings: Coltton, Murphee, Raiden, Burkely, Reagyn, Madilaine
Branding: Mercedes, Porsha, Chanel, Lexxus

Rebecca Koerselman

Rebecca Koerselman teaches history at Northwestern College in Orange City, IA.


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