Formations 01.03.2016: Baby Names of 2015

Matthew 1:18-21; Luke 2:21-24, 36-38

Anna the Prophetess, Alexandrian World Chronicle, fifth century.

Anna the Prophetess, Alexandrian World Chronicle, fifth century.

Jackson and Sophia are the most popular baby names of 2015, but there are some interesting trends further down the list. According to a USA Today report, the gender-neutral name Royalty is up 90% this year, and other “regal” names like Duchess, Reign, and Sultan are not far behind.

As in previous years, popular TV shows and literature have had an influence on baby names. The most name-inspiring show of 2015 was Empire, fueling a boom in Dres, Hakeems, Luciouses, and Lyons. According to ABC News, some of the hottest names this year are Kai, the name of the little boy who was enchanted in “The Snow Queen,” and Esme, the name of the vampire matriarch in Twilight. (The name also features in the J. D. Salinger story “For Esme, With Love and Squalor.”)

Space exploration also provided a number of popular names including Venus and Jupiter.

Finally, USA Today notes the fascinating trend of a rise in names of Instagram filters such as Amaro, Ludwig, and Lux for boys and Juno and Valencia for girls.

People today put great thought into the names they give their children, but this is nothing compared to the attention given to naming in the world of Jesus. Our texts today invite us to consider the name of Jesus. Matthew’s text relates how the angel commanded Joseph to name his adoptive son Jesus and explains the meaning of that name: “He will save his people from their sins.” In Luke, we read about Jesus’ formal naming at his circumcision and his later presentation in the temple, where the prophet Anna began to praise God and testify of him.

Lindsay Deutsch, “Top 2015 Baby Names Inspired by Instagram, ‘Empire,” USAToday.com, 1 Dec 2015, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/12/01/top-baby-names-2015/76563858/.

Vanessa Wilkins, “Nameberry’s Top Baby Names of 2015,” ABCNews.com, 21 Dec 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/nameberrys-top-baby-names-2015/story?id=35886971.

Discussion

• Do you know the story of why you were given your name?
• How do you feel when someone misspells or mispronounces your name? How important is it to you that people get your name right? Why?
• Jesus’ name literally means “the Lord saves.” What in these stories foreshadows how he will fulfill the meaning of his name?
• What is it about Jesus, even as a baby, that inspired people like Simeon and Anna to worship God because of him?

Reference Shelf

Names

“What’s in a name” Shakespeare has Juliet ask. Ancient Israelites would respond: “A great deal!” They would not agree with the apparent disparagement of the power of names that follows—“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Personal and place names from the Bible, as well as those found in material excavated throughout the biblical world, have meanings and provide compelling revelations of the sensitivities and convictions of those who gave them and possibly those who bore them. A name is often an abbreviated or brief sentence; it is common for a name to be an overtly religious expression.

In naming a child parents might express a wish (Exekiel = may God [’el] strengthen), a conviction (Elijah = my God is Jah [Yahweh]; Daniel = my judge is God), a statement about this child (Elnathan = God has given), an emotion (Asher = happy; Isaac = laughter—a play on Sarah’s reaction to the news that in her advanced age she would bear a child)….

W. Lee Humphreys, “Names,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 602.

The Naming of Jesus

Joseph in fact is depicted as the model disciple and follower of God’s will, for he gives up a Jewish father’s greatest privilege (siring his firstborn son) in order to obey God’s will (cf. 1:24). Verse 20 suggests, however, that Joseph was afraid to take Mary as wife once she was pregnant. This is an understandable fear in an honor and shame culture where his whole family’s reputation could be ruined by his being a willing participant in scandal. The angel reassures Joseph that what Mary has conceived is from the Holy Spirit. While Mary will give birth to the child, Joseph will assume what was normally the father’s duty of naming the child (cf. Luke 1:59-60). The name given the child is Yeshua, or as we would call it, Joshua. This name means “Yahweh saves” and foreshadows the role the Son of David was to play. Notice that we are already told in v. 21 that he will “save his people from their sins.” First of all, this makes clear that Jesus’ mission is to an Israel that is lost or has gone astray. But what would it mean to save them from their sins? Does this mean save them from the consequences of their sins (e.g., judgment), or does it mean save them from the effects of their sins on their own lives and the lives of those close to them by transforming them? It probably implies both. They are not merely saved from the “wrath to come” but saved from their own worst instincts and behaviors and their consequences by graciously changing these instincts and behaviors….

The reference to the name “Immanuel” is a reference to a throne name for a king rather than a personal name, and as Chrysostom observes it is the name by which he was to be acclaimed as a result of the outcome of his life, death, and resurrection (Hom. Matt. 5.2-3). This is what Jesus will be called—the living presence of God with God’s people. This theme finds a recapitulation when we come to the end of Matthew 28:20 and the exalted Christ promises to be with them until the close of the age. In terms of Christology, then, this Gospel is deliberately framed with the picture of Jesus as a king like Solomon who saves his people and gives them wisdom to live by and commands to follow. Joseph himself is then por- trayed as an obedient son of David in v. 24, for when he awakens, he obeys the dream vision he has had.

Ben Witherington III, Matthew, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 46–47.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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