by Aubrey Sampson
Genesis 2 tells the story of Adam’s first day on the job. He was tasked to name each animal as they paraded in front of him—lion and lioness, buck and doe, rooster and hen—and as he did, he realized that his match was missing. When Adam saw Eve, his polar-partner, his equal? He
couldn’t help but name her: “Flesh of my flesh! Bone of my bone!” (This was Adam’s version of running laps in church, waving his hanky around.
This always makes me think of my sons when they were little. They could barely eke out full sentences, but like most little children with fully alive imaginations, they would instinctively name their beloved stuffed animals. They seemed to pull these names out of thin air; a beloved brown teddy bear was suddenly dubbed Dr. Dawson, a blue dog unexpectedly named Humphrey. I marveled at their Adam-like capacity to name something they loved.
When my husband Kevin and I discovered we were pregnant, we immediately began the very personal, prayerful, and pensive work of naming. With each of our sons, this process took much debating, weighing, waiting, arguing, testing—and running through a list of potential evil nicknames or bad associations, immediately rejecting any names that had either—until we finally united in agreement. We named each of our sons for a Prophet, King, and Priest, consecutively.
On their birthdays we sit around the dinner table, reviewing their names. Do you know why we named you? For whom? And why that specific person? With each of their namesakes, we gave our boys a model to strive toward. But more important than any of that, as Adam did with Eve, we named our boys from a place of unmitigated love.
Even though my children have been aptly named, I constantly speak other names over them, especially in those quiet, tender moments at bedtime. I actually used to make them hold out their hands. Then I would tap each finger and give them a name, You are Smart. You are Handsome. You are Brave. You are So Loved by God and by your dad and me. The Holy Spirit is in you. You are a Lion, a Warrior, a Kind Soul, a Good Brother, a Good Son, a Peace-Maker, a Justice-Bringer. Sometimes they’ll walk up to me and give me their outstretched hand, needing to be named again.
I used to think that the act of naming was part of what made us human, part of our special dignity and design as image-bearers. But naming something or someone is not that special. I mean, even Koko the gorilla, famous for her use of American Sign Language, named her kittens and her stuffed animals.
It’s not the act of naming alone that matters. It’s the way we name that matters.
From the beginning of time, the presence of God was always intended to be manifested and mediated through humanity. This is why God ignited Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it. It’s not so they’d have a lot of kids. It’s not so they’d have power. They were commissioned to rule the earth so that the entire world would know the presence, power, and mission of God – so that the world would one day know the Name above every other.
You are equally tasked to mediate to others the goodness of God. You are here on this planet to “rule” in a way that dignifies, rather than commodifies or destroys, others. And one way we do this is by naming others in a way that calls forth their God-given identities.
Let me give you a picture of what sacred naming looks like. There’s a short story in scripture about a mysterious but central figure, the kingly-priest Melchizedek, whose name means “king of righteousness,” and who ruled over a city named Salem, or “shalom.”
Melchizedek appears on the biblical scene just after Abraham defeated some enemies in Sodom. Abraham gathered together with a few other kings to bring a sort of ceremonial conclusion to this conflict. At this gathering, the king-priest Melchizedek appears almost inexplicably, seemingly out of nowhere, acting as a divine mediator.
In just three verses, we find all we need to know about him: “Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was the priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand’” (Genesis 14: 18-20).
As a royal priest, Melchizedek does three profound things:
1. He sets out a table of bread and wine (amongst enemies).
2. He praises God.
3. He “names” Abram blessed.
In Jesus, we are also royal priests (1 Peter 2:9). We are royal blessers and royal namers, in the tradition of Melchizedek, empowered by the Spirit of God. And as God’s royal priests, we are meant to, very intentionally, share the love and presence of Jesus with every person we come into contact with—be it a friend, stranger, or enemy—by naming them well.
In a world hell-bent on stripping us of our identity, in a culture that so often pressures us into the trap of comparison, in a sphere that regularly dehumanizes other image bearers—in a society that tears others down all the time—
the act of seeing someone, truly seeing them,
and blessing them with a dignifying name,
is one powerful way of putting on your royal, priestly robes and getting to work.
This is the question the entire world is asking. You are empowered in Jesus to answer.
So name your neighbors, strangers, and enemies with honor. Speak dignifying goodness over them and about them. Set tables before them with nothing less the best bread and the finest wine.
This is the way of Jesus, our great high priest and great high Namer.
Taken from Known by Aubrey Sampson. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Aubrey Sampson serves on the teaching and preaching team at Renewal Church in West Chicago, which she co-planted with her husband, Kevin. Aubrey writes regularly for Propel Women and has contributed to Proverbs 31, Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience, Christianity Today, and more. She also speaks at churches and events around the country. Aubrey has her master’s degree in Evangelism and Leadership from Wheaton College and is the co-host of The Common Good daily talk show and the Nothing is Wasted podcast. Deeply passionate about helping hurting Christians find healing so that they can fully embrace their God-given identities and purposes, she has authored three books, Overcomer, The Louder Song, and her latest, Known. You can connect with Aubrey @aubsamp.