March 14, 2008

India, Part 5: What's in a Name?

I think we underestimate the power of names in the West. I know I'm one of the worst offenders, because I can never remember them. Show me a person, and I'll remember their face for a long time, but tell me their name, and I'll be hard pressed the next time we meet to remember what it was. Which was a problem in India. In India, like in Ancient Israel, names mean something more than just an ID number; they tell other people WHO you are. If you know somebody's name, you know that person in an intimate way.

And so when the many children at Bethel started repeating their names to us and asking us if we remembered, I was horribly embarrased every time I forgot. And I forgot quite often.

"Uncle," they'd shout across the courtyard, "good morning! What's my name?" Uncle and Auntie are what they call anybody who comes to work at the compound. It's a term of respect, especially because anyone who comes to work is older than they. I nearly told them to call me Cousin until I realized the respect inherent in the term "Uncle" is very important, culturally speaking. And I also realized that the best answer to the question "what's my name" was to ask the same in return ... until they wised up and actually remembered. There were only twenty of us to remember for them, but for us there were more than 800.

I did remember two girls' names - Anita and Ganga - the former because her name reminded me of my aunt, the latter because she had to spell it for me before I figured out how to pronounce it. Their reaction to my memory was something I'll never forget - beaming, if slightly embarrased smiles. I think it made them feel more human. And why shouldn't it? I had just told them that I knew who they ARE, their very essence.

There is an old practice, dating back ages and ages, where you name your child for the meaning of the name as much as how you like it to sound. We named our daughter Aurora Eve, which means "Dawn of New Life." It's fitting, given that she's our first child, but it also is meant to signify the new stage of our journey that Liz and I have entered; parenthood, adulthood, new schools, new jobs, new communities. Rori's birth coincided with this new season. But for her it will also mean something; she is a new life, and her life is important. I love the imagery of her first name; the Aurora is that first glimpse of the sun as it dashes over the horizon, spilling its light across everything, illuminating everything in its path. I want my daughter to be like that; illuminating those around her with the love of God that burns within her. I want her to know compassion for others, to show mercy and grace, kindness and justice. And all of this can be found in her name. To know the name Aurora is to know my daughter.

What's in a name? We are formed and shaped by how we are named, both by our parents and by those around us. If we are told we are worthy of respect, we begin to feel as though we are. If we are told we are worthless, we believe that as well, and act accordingly. I hope my daughter knows that she is dearly loved, and I pray that she in turn bestows that love upon all she meets. A name is given, but it is also something to live up to.

* * *

I want to thank my Grandparents for their generosity in providing the funds to send me to India. It's from them that my love of travel comes; when I broached the subject, Grandpa said "ah, another year, another country." So true. But to Grandma and Grandpa - thank you.

I'd also like to thank all of you who were praying for our team. God certainly honors the prayers of his children, and we were so blessed to have those prayers interceding for us. Nearly everybody (save me and a couple others) got sick while we were there, but every single one of them recovered remarkably quickly. And it wasn't the food that helped them. So thanks to all of you.

And thank you for reading my fumbling words during this series.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Ah Chris, you are on the verge of bringing tears to my eyes with the description of your daughters name and the vision for her you and Liz have. May we all aspire to be parents who love like you and Liz (and the One whom that Love comes from)!!!