What’s in a Name?

Ecclesiastes 7:1 begins, “A good name is better than precious ointment…” The wise Preacher states that a good name is better than costly cleansers or perfumes for the body. What, though, does he mean by a good name? While I would like to think we gave our children good names — names that just roll off the tongue — is that really what the Preacher means?  Was he warning us to get out the name book one more time before appellation?

Since I can remember, it has been my desire to have a son named Caleb. Now that God has granted me that son I pray that we will have the blessing of entering the Promised Land together. However, it isn’t what we call him that reveals his godliness. So it must be more than just the way the name roles off the tongue.

From Genesis 3:20 onward, we see names assigned to identify unique traits, conduct, or purposes. Eve is the mother of all living, and the name well-described her uniqueness and core purpose. This hits the heart of Ecclesiastes 7:1. What makes you you is not your name, but rather the identity you’ve developed through your actions and words. It’s your uniqueness and core purpose. Perhaps you’ve known a mother or two who refused to name their children specific names because of the character of others bearing those names. The name didn’t give the person soiled character, but the soiled character certainly soiled the name. When we think of the names of people we hold dear, it isn’t the beauty of their literal name that endears us to them. It’s their character. It’s love. It’s patience. It’s generosity. These, and many others, are the traits that make up a good name.

It is likely that most of you reading this article bathed recently using various products, and a few of you used additional fragrant sprays or oils to add sweetness to your natural scent. Realize, says the Preacher, that all our preparation for proper presentation in public matters very little if our reputation is unclean. If our reputation hasn’t cleaned itself in weeks, its stench of ruin will overpower any fragrance we might try to apply to our bodies.

A woman is presented to us in Luke 7:36-50 who seems to have understood this concept. Jesus was invited by Simon the Pharisee to eat a meal. As they ate a woman came to Jesus. Her name in verse 37 is “sinner.” This woman began to wash and kiss Jesus’ feet using her own hair and tears. Consider, the next time you’re dusting, using your hand instead of a rag or glove. This woman humiliated herself at the feet of Jesus. Weeping she cleansed his dusty, road-worn feet. Then, she took an alabaster flask of fragrant oil and anointed his feet. She proved her adoration for him and submitted to him in humility. In this moment, her name transformed into Humility and Submission.

The Pharisee on the other hand was incensed that Jesus would allow this to happen. In verse 39 he said to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” The Pharisee saw himself in comparison to this woman. Yes, it is right for Jesus to join me for a meal, but how dare this “sinner” approach. And further, how can he allow such to continue. In this monologue, the Pharisee’s name changed to Pride.

This is an easy trap for us to ensnare ourselves into. We begin to think that the good name we’re supposed to have is with the world. We mistakenly think if our reputation is solid in our communities that this is that good thing the Preacher so encouraged us to have. Not so. For the Preacher concludes Ecclesiastes 7:1, “…and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” For it is in death that the truth of a man is revealed. All the potential from birth is brought to judgment in death. Peter remarks in 2 Peter 3:11, “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” It is our good name before God that is most valuable. Jesus could see that Simon had made a name for himself on this earth, but it was of no value in the kingdom of heaven. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint my head with oil, but this woman has anointed my feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much…” (Luke 7:44-47).

This woman left the Lord with the most beautiful name: forgiven. Truly, she could go in peace (Luke 7:50).  Hers was a name so much more valuable than anything she had ever possessed. What was the value of her hair compared to the beautiful feet of the one bringing peace (Isaiah 52:7)?  What was the value of the oil compared to the sweet-smelling aroma sitting before her (Ephesians 5:2)?

So what if our bodies are clean and our name is well thought of in the world. If we haven’t made the answer of a good conscience, then the stench of death surrounds us. So what if we’ve hit the fast track at work and everyone seems to like us. If we remain in sin, the Judge of all will condemn saying, “I never knew you.” Make sure you’ve submitted yourself to him so that in the end you may hear him say, “well done, good and faithful servant.” May the Lord always know us by that good name!