I have called you by your name and you are mine. Isaiah 43:1
By Sheri Wohlfert
There is power in a name, and there certainly is something touching about having someone speak our name kindly. As a young teacher, I often underestimated the importance of calling students by their name; that was until I met a small boy who taught me a very important lesson.
There was a little first-grade boy who decided one day that he no longer liked the name his parents gave him, so he picked a new name. It began the day he started writing his name on all his papers with the capital letters ‘ZB’. As his teacher sat down that afternoon to correct the day’s work, she was a bit puzzled, but it didn’t take long to figure out who the mystery student was.
First thing the next morning, she called ‘ZB’ up to her desk and asked if he might be willing to explain. He very politely told her that his parents had made a mistake and given him the wrong name, so he decided to fix it himself and just start writing the name he had chosen. She said sweetly to this completely serious little guy, “Sweetheart, you can’t just change your name. That has to be done by an official person.”
He shook his head and said, “Oh, I get it. So can I go talk to the principal right now to change my name or should I wait till recess?” Holding back her laughter, the teacher sent him down to visit the principal right away.
The principal welcomed the visit and began by asking the little guy, “So, how did you come up with this new name?”
The little boy said, “Well that’s easy! I just picked a cool name that would tell everybody what I’m good at.”
The principal looked at the letters ‘ZB’ and said, “I’m not sure I understand.”
With all the pride one smile could hold, the little boy stood up and said, “I’m a fast runner so my new name is ‘Zooming Bullet’! I just write ‘ZB’ because all those other letters take too long to write and I like to be fast.” The principal sent him on his way, promising to make a phone call to his mother to discuss it. ‘ZB’ raced back to class very content and the principal just sat at his desk and laughed harder than he had in weeks as he pondered what he might call himself if he could choose a new name.
From the moment we are knit in our mother’s womb, we are named by the God who created us.
I am a firm believer that there is divine influence as Christian parents name their children. There is often an important story connected to our names. Often people are named after a saint or given a treasured family name but do we know the story of our name? Do our students know the story of their names? Each year I have my students do a presentation on their name. If they are named after a saint or relative, I invite them to learn and share that story. I had a student once who was named after his dad’s favorite hockey player. As it turns out, that hockey player was a kind and generous man who invested generously in hungry, homeless and hurting children on more than one continent.
Our students are looking for heroes but the ones the secular world parades before them aren’t always teaching the lessons that form young saints — so why not change directions and have kids study the heroes they were named for? There are powerful lessons and examples just waiting to come to light.
If God loved us enough to create us wonderfully and perfectly, he wouldn’t leave our name to chance … he had a hand in that too. We are his and he knows our name! He knows who we are and we will never be lost! I often wonder what my name says about me and I wonder what God thinks about the life I’m living under the name He gave me.
Find out the story of your name if you don’t know it. Take some time to think about your name and the memories and impressions you and your name will leave with others when you are absent, then do the same with your students.
Sheri Wohlfert is a Catholic wife, mom, speaker, and teacher who writes from Michigan. She uses her sense of humor and her deep faith to help others discover the joy of being a child of God. Sheri also writes at JoyfulWords.org.