What’s in a Name?

what's in a name?

God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name

Philippians 2:9

My name is Thomas Creedy. This website is titled ‘thomascreedy.co.uk’, and my blog’s Facebook page is ‘Thomas Creedy’s Blog’. Those three things give me a platform, which is associated with my name.

When I have sinned against God and other people, my name is tainted, and what I write is tainted, but most soberingly, those I have hurt may have a different way of thinking about the God I claim to know and follow.

Because my name is associated with the name of Jesus, and various organisations, I am mindful of what I write and how it is recieved.

Recently, we’ve seen more and more come out about the life of Ravi Zacharias, the well-known Christian apologist who died last year. I never met Ravi, or interacted with him beyond seeing his name on some books (I don’t actually think I’ve ever read a book by him, though I may be wrong), but I know his name because it was attached to his ministry, his books, and the books and ministries of other people who benefitted from a little of the glory given to Ravi being shared. Standing behind this blog post is a deeper, as yet-unfinished reflection on power and publishing – but for the moment, I think it is important to ask: what’s in a name?

In the Bible, names are extremely important. I’ve literally placed Philippians 2:9 at the top of this blog post, because at the end of the day the name I want people to know, to call on, to trust, is the name of Jesus. I have no doubt that that is a primary motivation for many who run ministries, blogs and other things. Yet when we obscure the name of Jesus, either by our actions (and, I emphasise, I am a sinner who is saved by Jesus alone) or the hubris that seems pragmatic, I think we do something deeply damaging.

Consider the case of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In less than a year, in the public eye (allegations surfaced before, and I’d suggest checking out Julie Roys’ work for some of the backstory) this ministry, because of it’s founder, has gone from an apologetics darling to a tainted thing. RZIM has grown beyond being merely a platform for it’s founder – yet there will be a taint lingering for many as they consider the fallout, as this article shows. Other ministries, for example Exodus International associated with Alan Chambers, or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Assocation and it’s present leadership, have also gone through the mill in various ways, but it seems to me that naming a ministry after yourself is a sure-fire way to cause trouble. I remember being puzzled that Jayne Ozanne called her new charity ‘The Ozanne Foundation‘, before realising that it is primarily a vehicle for promoting her work. The integrity of the individual then becomes integral to the integrity of the organization. And because no human individual is God, because no human being can sustain that kind of pressure, there is an inevitability  toward destruction. And the fall, if it comes, does not just effect the name on the masthead. It affects the victims (who may wait years to be believed), the staff and their families, the supporters and audience, and ultimately it affects the reputation of the name of Jesus.

The Amplified Bible adds an interesting twist to it’s rendering of Philippians 2:9: “For this reason also [because He obeyed and so completely humbled Himself], God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name“. This posture of humility, so key to the way of Jesus, is something that I find hard to square with naming an organization after yourself. At the moment, I think there is a distinction between a personal blog/website (About/by an individual), and an organisation/foundation/ministry that involves other people. But as I’ve thought through the importance of ‘what’s in a name?’, I’ve found myself wondering about that. I’m running a poll on Twitter, non-bindingly, to see what people think. It seemed reasonable to me to make my website my name – and it’s what I’d advise authors to do, unless they plan on writing only one book – but in doing so I am saying something about my name, and I can see from that why it would seem reasonable to someone to name an organisation after themselves. But I think it is hubristic.

Recently I’ve been spending time reading Exodus, as I’ve been working on a project at work looking at the life of Moses, and thoroughly enjoyed a commentary in my devotional time. The aforementioned Exodus International was clearly, in it’s name, tapping into the power of names and stories to make a statement. Names matter, and Exodus is a part of the Bible where this is particularly clear. A while ago I read John Mark Comer’s helpful book God Has a Name, where he reflects on the name(s) of God. In Exodus 34 we read this:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation’

God’s name means something. It tells us something about God. And a part of what his name means is this sobering truth that “he does not leave the guilty unpunished“.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. A glory that can be restored to us by the name, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. There can be an immense amount in a name. But I think that organisations that claim to be Christian, to be focused on Jesus, should think long and hard about their names. Because, otherwise, can we really be seen to be putting the name of Jesus above all other names? If you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, then I hope you can see that, for me and so many others, the most important name is Jesus. If you don’t know what you think about Him, why not read the Gospel of John (a short book about the life of Jesus that can be found in the Bible) and see what you make of him.

If you’ve read this post, I’d really value your comments. I guess there are a few questions:

  • personally, should I change my website url, etc?
  • generally, do you agree or disagree that naming things after yourself is open to problems?
  • in a wider sense, do you think that Christians should generally not name organisations/ministries after any person that isn’t Jesus?

2 Responses

  1. Terry

    I see no problem in using your own name for a personal website, blog, etc. And naming an organisation after yourself isn’t necessarily a problem. But yes, I would be wary in some circumstances. For example, some of my wife’s relatives worshipped at a church that took its name from a place in the Bible – but eventually, it became known as ‘[The Minister’s Name] Ministries’. That smacks of hubris to me.

  2. Ros

    I think a personal name for a personal website is not a bad thing. In your position it’s helpful because it makes clear that this isn’t an IVP website. But I cannot think of any good reason to name an organisation – especially a Christian or charitable organisation – after yourself. And I can think of a LOT of good reasons not to do it.

    Naming in honour of a (long) dead person feels different to me. I don’t have a problem with Wycliffe Hall or Tyndale House, or the Uganda Martyrs Seminary, for example.

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