What’s in a Name?


Most English speakers a familiar with Juliet’s famous declaration from Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet; (II.2.43-44)

It has become a popular colloquialism, but is it true?  Are names actually important?

Yes. Yes, they are. When I was younger, my mother taught me to end all of my prayers “in Jesus name.” This tradition is common among Protestants. It is derived from the Gospel St. John, where Jesus says, “If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (Authorized Version, John 14:14). But what does it mean to ask in someone’s name? If I ask for something sinful in the name of Jesus, am I guaranteed that it will come true? Or if I ask for something neutral, such as a particular apartment, in Jesus’s name, am I guaranteed to receive it? I do not think that is right.

While reading John Milton’s A Treatise on Christian Doctrine today, I stumbled upon an interesting verse:

Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him. (Ex. 23:20-1)

The name of the LORD, the tetragrammaton YHWH, dwelt in the angel. The indwelling of the name is what gives the angel power and glory and honor. The angel enforces the Divine will, and therefore when the angel speaks we must “obey his voice.” To sin against the angel is to sin against the LORD Himself because the LORD dwells in him. When the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Gideon, it reads:

And the LORD looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee? (Judg. 6:14)

The angel is the one looking on Gideon, but the text has God Himself looking upon Gideon. The name of LORD must dwell in this angel too because the angel is sent by God to do His will. This method of describing angels as the LORD is common throughout the Old Testament.

It is important to note that the angels speak the Word of God. That means the Word, the Logos, the Son of God, dwells in them. In order for one to know the will of God, one must encounter the Word.

After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. (Gen. 15:1)

This text may refer to the pre-incarnate Logos or, and in my opinion more likely, an Angel of the LORD in whom dwelt the Logos. It is not just angels who speak the Word of the LORD: “Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying” (Hag. 1:3). Thus the prophet speaks with the authority of the LORD Himself because the the Word of God came and dwelt in the prophet. The Prophet of the LORD then speaks the will of God and does His will.

Now back to the original dilemma: what does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? Our Lord gives us the answer in the following verse: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). To ask in the name of Jesus is to receive his commandments and do them. As our Lord says elsewhere “blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28).  The Holy Apostle writes concerning the grace given us:

wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself (Eph. 1:8-9)

To ask in the name of Jesus is to ask according to the will of God made manifest in us. We pray, or ask, according to the manner our Lord taught us: “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  That is, “make Thy Holy, Divine, Incomprehensible Will manifest in us, and give us the strength to do it!”

At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. (John 14: 20-21)

Like the angel in whom dwelt the Divine name, how much more shall the LORD dwell in us who have been baptized into Christ whose flesh sits at the right hand of God?

What about the power of a name? Sure the tetragrammaton is powerful, but what about other names? Abram was changed to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Simon to Peter. Each of these names were changed for a reason ordained by God. The LORD says to St. John the Divine in a vision:

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it. (Rev. 2:17)

All the saints receive their “new name,” and it is toward this name where we must move, to paraphrase the late Met. Anthony of Sorouzh. It is the name the LORD ordained for us, our true selves; it is our destiny.

However, there is only one name that is above all other names:

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

This text deserves its own exposition in anther post. Suffice it to say that with David I cry,

I will call upon the  LORD, who is worthy to be praised:
so shall I be saved from mine enemies. (Ps. 18:3)

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