“Do I have to put my real last name?” the young man asked as I came to him in the row of children whose names I was taking down for a photo.
I had never heard that request before. I thought he might want to put something down like Superman, Spiderman or some other hero. But, instead, it was a different kind of hero whose name he would rather use than his own. His own father, he said, had hurt his sister, so he was no longer part of their family, and they didn’t want to be known as his children. The rest of the family was going to be taking on a new name soon, someone’s name they could be proud of.
He assured me the new last name would be his soon, so he would rather use that than his original surname. His little brother, standing nearby, would use the same new last name, he informed me.
It struck my heart that these youngsters had already gone through such trauma that they needed a different name, a new identity, a fresh start. I was sad that their father was not someone they could look up to, but I was glad they were looking forward to bearing the name of someone they could admire and respect.
Sometimes to move forward we need a new name.
Women (also sometimes men) who get married or divorced often change their names to reflect a change in their lives.
Children who are adopted take on the new name of their adoptive parents.
Performers used to often (and some still do) change their names to something they felt was more attractive. Who could blame Reginald Kenneth Dwight for becoming Elton John? Or Jennifer Linn Anastassakis for taking the last name Aniston instead? Marion Mitchell Morrison doesn’t quite have the same ring as “John Wayne,” and Henry John Deutschendorf Jr., doesn’t bring up the same image as John Denver.
Sometimes people even decide to create their own names to reflect their life work or the places they have adopted, like our own Rio de la Vista and the late Tetsuko of Cold Mountain (formerly Susan Garlock.)
I have given some of my pets new names, sometimes because I simply didn’t know their original names. The Newfoundland/Chow who lived in my house for a while before going to Denver became “Mamma Girl” because she had been abandoned at the dog pound with her puppies, and she was just a big pup herself. Her new family in Denver called her Molly.
My current Boca Burger (because he is a “nut burger”) was called Hot Rod by the boy whose grandma rescued him east of Alamosa, but I have no idea what his original name was. He needed a new name anyway, because I have a feeling his original name was not spoken in love.
I had a dog once I called Alex and later found out his former owners had called him Rudy. He didn’t seem to mind what his name was, as long as it was sweetly spoken.
We all can look forward to a new name in heaven. God promised that in Revelation 2:17: “To the one who is victorious … I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it …”
Maybe we’ve made a mess of the name we’ve had here on earth, like the father whose children refuse to use his last name as their own, or even if we have made our name synonymous with sainthood, grace and goodness (like Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa, originally Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, Francis of Assisi, originally Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, or Abraham Lincoln), we could still use a new name — a God given name — to begin our journey through eternity.
It won’t matter what that name is, whether Gertrude or Grace. If God chooses it for me, it will be special. I imagine God has names for us we have never dreamed of, as wonderful as the place He has prepared for us.
Need a fresh start, a new name? God’s got you covered.