Selecting a name is a big responsibility. It demands consideration and thoughtful discussion. It’s an art. Not a task to be taken lightly.
How We Pick Names
Selecting a name for our first child was difficult. We debated multiple options. For the most part, I would suggest a name, Wendy would consider it, and then Wendy would veto it.
I suggested Zion. She vetoed because, she explained, “You are not cool enough to pull that off.”
I suggested Tucker. She vetoed because she knew I would forever say our son’s name in a poorly imitated New York-mafia-Godfather-like accent.
Then one night, in a Barns & Noble, while looking through a giant book of baby names, we stumbled upon “Jackson”. We both knew the moment she read it that it was the perfect name. Something about the way it sounded. The tonality of it drew us in.
We thought we’d end up calling him “Jack”, but that nickname has yet to take hold. He is “Jackson.”
Secretly I also loved the name because it reminded me of the glorious Carl Weathers’ movie from the 80’s, “Action Jackson”. In fear of a veto, I kept this detail to myself until after the birth certificate was signed.
The middle name came with more ease. We choose “Thomas” after my late father.
After Jackson, naming babies grew easier. We stuck to the system we’d discovered. The first name was chosen for its sound. The middle name was selected to represent a family member.
“Julianna” was not up for debate. Wendy had planned to use the name since she was a child. “Elizabeth” was for Wendy’s mom.
“Jude” came from the Beatles song “Hey Jude” and was confirmed when we discovered it was also the first name of the doctor who delivered the boy. “Christopher” is a family name on Wendy’s side.
This week we added to the roster “Riggs”. I’d suggested it in the past but it had been vetoed. I first came across it via the Lethal Weapon movies. It won the day this round because the kids latched onto it. We partnered it with Wendy’s dad’s middle name, “Holden.”
Abram, Saria, and the Invisible Girl
A name is important. It’s an introduction, a first impression. It establishes the lens through which others will build initial expectations.
Imagine you are going to have coffee with someone you’ve never met. His name is Sheldon. Picture the person in your mind.
I got his name wrong.
His name is actually Thor. Now picture him.
Totally different person, right?
Picking a name is a big deal.
This is why when people in the Bible name God, we should pay attention. It’s an important moment. They are introducing him to the world. They are establishing expectations. They are explaining who they know him to be.
The first time God is named occurs in Genesis 16. Abram (our bumbling Seth Rogan-esk hero) has been promised by God that God will bless him. Not because Abram deserves it, but rather because God wants the entire world to know who he is through his relationship with Abram. Part of this promised blessing was that Abram would have a son who would be the first of a great nation.
Abram struggled with trust. He believed God had good intentions, but he felt a deep need to help God along by taking control of situations. For example, knowing his wife was barren, in chapter 15 Abram declared that he wanted to make his favorite slave into his son. God said, “No, no, no. No adopting. You will have a son who comes from your gene pool.”
I imagine Abram didn’t take this news well. My suspicion is that he brought home with him a massive amount of anxiety after his little talk with the Almighty. I can hear him complaining about the impossibility of the promise. I imagine he ranted to his wife, “How am I suppose to have a kid if you can’t have kids? This is absurd.”
As a spouse would, Sarai took her husband’s frustrations personally. After all, she was the one who was barren, the one who couldn’t do the one thing her culture told her she was created to accomplish. “Have sons” was her job. But she couldn’t. So Sarai offers a solution, “Take my slave, Hagar. She will stand in for me.”
Let’s make Hagar’s position in this story clear. She was an Egyptian slave. At some point Abram either bought her at a market or killed her previous owner and claimed her. To Abram and Saria, Hagar was a commodity. She was not a peer. She was not a person. Like their tent, or their cammel, or their sheep, she was something they purchased to make their lives easier. Hagar is a thing.
As a thing, Hagar had no voice. No one asked her if she wanted to sleep with Abram. No one asked her if she wanted to be pregnant. No one asked her if she wanted to bear Abram and Saria a child. No one asked her anything. Her character doesn’t even speak until verse 8 (more on that in a moment).
If we were to rewind time and ask Hagar what she wanted, I’d imagine she’d say, “I just want to go home. I just want to be with my parents and family. I just want to have dreams and them freedom to chase them. I just want to live and be seen.”
But Hagar was an invisible girl, forced into a sexual arrangement she did not request, that would result in a child that was not her’s; because when the child finally was born, it would be considered Saria’s son. Not Hagar’s.
Her slave’s pregnancy had a predictable effect on Saria:
And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be upon you. I gave my into your lap, but when she saw that she had conceive, I was despised in her sight. May the Lord judge between you and me.” But Abram said to Saria, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.
Fleeing pregnant into the desert was no small thing. There were no hotels or homeless shelters or places to find refuge. In a tribal society, to be alone was to be exposed. To leave the safety of the camp was suicide, and Hagar knew it. All seems lost, until…
God Shows Up and Gets a Name
Now the angle of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, Saria’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”
Two incredible things happen here. First, God sees her. He does not see a thing. She is not a stray camel or lost sheep. He sees what everyone else has missed. He sees the independence of her will, the ferocity of her spirit, and the fire behind her eyes that has been veil by chains. He sees and independent woman. A woman fearless and strong enough to run alone into the wilderness.
Second, he speaks to her. He is the first person to speak to her in the book. And he doesn’t just speak, he asks her a question. In doing so, he gives her a voice. She is not a prop. She is a character in the play with lines to deliver. His compassion for her elevates her from possession to person. Where she has come from matters. Her plans matter. What she wants matters.
The conversation between Hagar and God continues. He tells her to go back to Abram and Sarai, to suffer through it. He promises that her son – not Saria’s son, her son – will become a great nation. He then describes her son’s personality to her. Through all of this, he promises her a future. He gives her hope.
And her response is to name him.
The she called the name of the lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees.”
El Roi – The God Who Sees
The next day when a fellow slave asked Hagar, “Why? Why did you come back?” I imagine Hagar said, “Because the God who sees told me that everything was going to be okay.”
When we told the doctor our fifth child’s name, he replied, “Riggs Holden Elkins? Sounds like a judge.” A nurse later said, “Sounds like the hero of an action movie.” I don’t know what my new little man will become, but I’ve done my best to start him off with a strong name.
At the end of chapter 16, Abram, Sarai, and Hagar’s future is also uncertain; but what is clear is that God will not be a silent partner.
He is present.
He is active.
And he sees.
He sees and loves even those we choose not to.