It was on this day, in 1808, that Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that all Jews living in the French Empire must adopt a family name. Before that, many people were not commonly known as John Smith or Mary White as they are today. In the Biblical era, God’s people were identified by their father’s name; for example Yehoshua ben Nun (Joshua, son of Nun). To some degree, this tradition continued through the centuries and, so this begs the question: was this an attempt on Napoleon’s part to bring Jews into conformity with the rest of European society?
Furthermore, compliance with this decree helped to conceal the identity of these Jewish people. When Pharaoh bestowed upon Joseph the name “Zaphnath-Paneah,” it effectively concealed his Hebrew identity. Years later, his own brothers thought that he was an Egyptian, in part, because he was not called by the name they recognized. So the point is, our name is intended to identify us and in more ways than one. The Scripture is full of examples of how the meaning of names accurately describes a person. In that vein, names identify a person beyond the pronunciation of the name; oftentimes it has more to do with what the name says about someone.
I believe that the Creator knew that I would be named Bill Cloud. Years ago, I traced the origins of my name and what I found was very interesting and very challenging. When I discovered the meaning behind these names, and then compared myself to them, it left me wanting to strive to live up to the name. But as a believer, I’ve come to realize that what I think of myself is not, necessarily, what matters most. Here is what’s important: how does the Messiah view me? He knows my name, where it came from and what it means but am I living up to what He has called me to be?
Let’s take one step further. My name identifies me in my flesh, but in the Messiah, I am a new creation. So, consider that notion with this Scripture in mind:
“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, And I will give him a white stone, with a new name written that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)
According to this, there is to be given to those who overcome the world a new name directly from the Messiah. What will it be and what will it mean? Of course, we don’t know but we can be confident of this: when the Creator of the universe names someone, there is great significance behind it. For example, Abram became Abraham, the “father of many peoples.” Sarai became Sarah, “a princess.” Samson and John the Baptist were both named, by God, before they were ever born. When the Creator gives you a name, there is purpose and all of us who are born again have been given a new name – a family name. Again, as a new creation, all things become new and that includes how we are known. Messiah said:
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and never shall he shall go out of it. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out from My God of heaven, and My own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)
This is the name that matters most. His name upon us identifies us as His sons and daughters. There’s a condition, however, if we are to receive this name – we must conquer and we must overcome. This is to say that we have completely died to ourselves, have not sought to make a name for ourselves, but have sought to sanctify His great name in our life and in the sight of all peoples. It’s a tall order, but with His help, we can do it. Let our prayer, today, be that we proclaim His name to the world and that we might be found worthy to bear His name for all eternity.