What’s in a Name? (Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist)

Readings Is 49:1-6; Ps 138; Acts 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66. 80

“No. He will be called John.”

What’s in a name? Have you ever considered the meaning of your names? Did we ask our parents why did they give us our name? And for parents here today, how did we choose the names of our children?

I remember the first time I found out the meaning of my name. I was about to assist at Mass for the first time as an altar server. I was 9 years old. The priest celebrating the Mass asked me: “What’s your name?” I replied, “Cristopher Creo.” Then he said: “Oh so you’re “Christ-bearer who believes”—Christopher comes from the Greek: khristophoros, literally “Christ-bearing;”, while Creo means “I believe” in Spanish.

I was very excited. Wow! Did my mum think all that just to give me my name? After Mass I ran home as fast as I could and asked my mum. “Mum is it true you gave me my name because it means Christ-bearer and our family name means I believe?” My mum patted me on the head and said: “Well, actually, I named you after my favorite movie actor.”

Our parents and some parents here are probably like my mum in choosing names for their children. Or maybe some do it like what we hear in the gospel. In the biblical world, the names of persons often offer an insight into those persons’ identity—their mission, calling, or state in life.

So, in the Gospel, when friends and relatives wanted to name the boy after his father, they wanted and expected that the boy to continue the traditions of the priestly class, the identity of the clan. The boy was named for a role or mission.

And although it seemed that Zachariah and Elizabeth were defying convention by giving their son a new name, outside family traditions and expectations, still the boy’s name declared his identity and mission.

John’s name means “YHWH is gracious”. It reflects the graciousness of God towards Elizabeth and Zachariah in giving them a son in their old age. It also reveals the graciousness of God towards the people of Israel through John. For John’s mission was to call people back to God; to recognise that they were in God’s favour and to respond accordingly through the way they lived their lives. John was named for mission.

We, too, are named for mission. We, too, have been given a new name when we were baptised. We are named Christians from the Latin christianus. Etymologically it literally means “related to the Christ or the anointed one.”

Our name reveals our social identity and our common mission. We are of Christ; therefore, we must think, speak, feel, and act just as how Christ would think, speak, feel, and act Himself. Jesus was on about proclaiming the Kingdom here on earth. As we will hear in the Eucharistic Prayer: “To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.”

If these are the things Jesus considered important then as our name suggests, these are the things we need to be on about. We cannot cherry-pick only the bits that we like or comfortable and discard or ignore the rest—and we must be 100% Christians. We are Christians, so let us all be Christ-like.

This is especially significant to our young parishioners receiving Holy Communion for the first time. For you, dear children, do not just bear the name of Christ. From now on you will be receiving Christ Himself. And hopefully, by regularly receiving Holy Communion, you will all become more like Christ. So that when people look at you, they will not only see you but also see Christ living in you.

Knowing the meaning of my name, I try to be worthy of it. I am Christ-bearer. And I am trying my best to live up to it. I may not always succeed. I will sometimes fail but I will try to get back, with God’s mercy and grace and with all your prayers. The same with our collective name. Let us be proud of it. But more importantly, let us try our best to live up to it.