57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, "No; he is to be called John." 61They said to her, "None of your relatives has this name." 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, "What then will this child become?" For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
At Suezan's father's church, there was a boy named 'Welby'. I asked Suezan whether the boy was named 'Welby' because of a TV show in the 1970's called "Marcus Welby, M.D." (starting Robert Young as the good doctor). Suezan did not recall that was the reason and she warned me not to make things up.
So, I am not going to say that the boy was named after this TV doctor. But strange that a Korean mom would name her son "Welby" when such a name in the 1970's or in any era was and is such a weird, unusual name for a child. Needless to say, growing up, Welby caught grief from kids at school for having such a strange name. It got so bad that Suezan's mom advised Welby's mom to change the boy's name. So sometime in grade school, Welby became "Andrew," which is not such a strange name. You can ask Andrew Chai if he ever caught grief because of "Andrew."
Naming your child or being named as a child is such an important thing that many cultures all around the world will have certain protocols exclusively designed to ensure a good, proper name for the child. And in almost every culture the name of the child indicates the identity or destiny of that child. The root meaning of the name is investigated and if the meaning is unfavorable, usually that name is dropped. If the meaning is favorable, however, then that name is considered.
The story of John the Baptist's birth follows this cultural pattern. John was originally going to be called "Zechariah," after his own father. We might have ended up with "Zechariah the Baptist" or "Zechariah, Jr." or "Zeke II." But we know John the Baptist as "John the Baptist." "John" comes from the Hebrew name יוֹחָנָן (Yôḥānān), or in its longer form יְהוֹחָנָן (Yəhôḥānān), meaning "YHWH has been gracious". The Hebrew name got translated to the Greek Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs). Later, this name got Latinized as Johannes (pronounced like the Greek). In some places the suffixes -us and -es from names were dropped in keeping with local dialects. "John" became the English form.
"YHWH is gracious" or "YHWH has been gracious" is the meaning behind "John" the Baptist. Indeed, God's grace was shown through the ministry of John the Baptist. His name confirmed the identity and destiny of this particular person named "John." The name, in essence, became the person.
For many of us, we have official names that likewise confirm who we are and what we are called to be. Let's take some examples from our male population, especially people with slightly unusual names:
Hubert -- Means "bright heart", derived from the Germanic elements hug "heart, mind" and beraht "bright".
Wellington -- Of Old English origin. "Wellington" is a place name with aristocratic connotations due to the known Duke of Wellington.
It possibly means, "Settlement of the Weolingas," from an Old English tribal name taken to mean, "Temple Wood/Clearing." But it remains uncertain.
Ide -- GENDER: Feminine. Possibly derived from Old Irish ítu "thirst". This was the name of a 6th-century Irish saint.
Just a sampling. For those of us whose legal names match up with who we are, that's wonderful. But some of us have names that do not match up well.
The important thing, in the end, is not what we are called (in terms of our legal name) but what God calls us. The Lord knows our legal names of course. But He also calls us by who we are and what we are called to be.
"O, Valiant One!" "Hope Bringer" "Lover of God" "Lover of God's People" "Merciful One" "Generous Heart" "Faithful One" "Woman of Prayer" "Man of Honor" "Encourager" "Speaker of Truth" "Joy to the Nations" "Healer of Hearts" "Hope Restorer" "Dragon Slayer" "Intimate One" "Fiery One" "Bringer of Peace" "Beauty for Ashes" "Royal One" "Prosperous One" "True Friend" and so on.
How does the Lord call you? Discover your Heavenly name. When I was born in Korea, my Catholic mother gave me a Christian name, "John," and when I got naturalized in the US, my legal name became "John." Some of us have Thai, Chinese, or Korean names, we have our English names, but all of us have Heavenly names -- names which are sometimes used in Heaven -- in addition to our real, earthly names. What does the Lord and His angels call you? Discover your identity and your destiny through these name(s), O seekers of God!
Let's pray: Father God, we thank you for our actual names. We thank you that we are more than our legal names. We thank you that who we are, our identities, and what we are called to be, our destinies, are known by you. Help us to discover how you see us. Help us to see that you see us truly. So, may your voice be heard clearly as we seek to draw near to you, so close that we can hear you whispering our names. In Jesus' Name, Amen.