by Aubrey Sampson
As a child, Aubrey was a problematic name to grow up with in my generation; I was often called Audrey or Omri, so I learned to introduce myself as “Aubrey with a b.” The biggest issue with “Aubrey” I have now? I am pocket-dialed constantly, as I am the first name in many phones. (I’m not exaggerating, this literally just happened again today.) None of those “Aubrey problems” is an actual hardship, though.
As we all know, there are other name-problems, arising from the painful, damaging names that we have spoken over ourselves, or that others have branded us with. These names leave us isolated and confused about who we are.
This is one of the larger, unspoken wounds festering inside of many of us. We want to run passionately after life, after love, after the things God has for us. We want step into our callings, feel like we belong, live into and out of our identity in Christ. But unknowingly, we allow false names, damaging names, negative names to speak louder than they ought to.
The good news is that we have a God who specializes in names and name change ministry. All throughout Scripture we see God naming and renaming his followers, and as he does, God reshapes their identities and their purposes. Let’s look at one famous name-change stories from scripture:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell face down, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abraham; your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17: 1-7 NLT)
Abram means “exalted father.” But by adding just two English letters, Abraham’s entire identity changed to the father of many. I am deeply moved by that moment in Scripture—by God’s abundance towards Abraham. God was pleased to promise good land and stars upon stars of descendants to Abram. And along with those promises? God also gave Abram a new name, a new distinctive, a new purpose. Abram as father was good. But Abraham as father of many is a fuller picture of who God created him to be. It is a vision of his eschatological (fullness of time) name—who Abraham is, and will continue to grow into as he stays faithful to God.
But here’s the part of the story that really gets me every single time. If we keep going, we read this: “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her (Genesis 17: 15-16).”
In most Bible translations, no footnote exists for the name Sarai, no explanation for that little i to h exchange. So we have to do some digging in Hebrew lexicons or talk to our Hebrew scholar friends to discover this enchanting piece of information:
Sarai means princess.
Sarah is noblewoman.
A princess has royalty, wealth, and suitors. But a noblewoman connotes a different kind of depth—a strength, resilience, excellence, ability, efficiency. A noblewoman is a force to be reckoned with.
I am in awe at God’s capacity for kindness. When he renamed Sarah and Abraham, something in their very being was transformed. This wasn’t just about building up their self-esteems; this was God revealing his love and purpose for their lives, so that they could live more fully for him. It didn’t mean that they would live perfectly, but they would certainly live loved.
God is the only being whose speech cannot be separated from his acts, his words can never be divided from his character. When God says, “Let there be light,” it’s because he is light and he has the creative power to make light in the darkness. In the same way, when God renames someone, he remakes them; God’s renaming is never separated from his healing power and holy purposes.
What if, in place of the negative names in your story, the Holy Spirit—as in the ancient days—wants to speak a new name, a better name, a healing name, a loving name, a freeing name over you? What if God is inviting you to shed your false names, leave them behind and replace them with his names for you?
I don’t know what specific false name or nickname you’ve been speaking over yourself, but I can say this: You are not Mistake, Idiot, Too Much, or Too Little. You are Beloved, Noble Woman, Spiritual Mother of Many, Servant of King Jesus, Daughter of God. Don’t listen to any other names than the ones God calls you.
Aubrey Sampson is a church planter and teaching pastor at Renewal Church in the Chicago area, alongside her husband and three sons. She is the cohost of the Nothing is Wasted podcast, and author of The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament, Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul, and the forthcoming Known: How Believing Who God Says You Are Changes Everything. You can follow Aubrey on Instagram.