My wife and I have three boys with three very different names. Like the variety in each one’s name, they have unique personalities and quirks. In many ways, they tend to live up to their names, as if a name they didn’t choose somehow gives them identity. As one theologian put it, “infants develop a sense of personal identity because we talk to them using names they didn’t choose” (The Baptized Body, Leithart, 9).
Despite a culture that incessantly tells us we are the captains of our own souls—we will choose our identity for ourselves, thank you very much—we come into this world as helpless creatures acted upon and given a name we did not choose. We grow up into the home and the name we’ve been given. This very truth cuts against the grain of our wishfully individualistic, autonomous delusion. But a delusion it is, for we are not our own—we belong to Another (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
If you think it strange that a word spoken over us (like our name) shapes our identity, consider a few biblical examples. Abram became Abraham, not by his own doing, but because God made a declaration over him: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:5). God changed his name and, as a result, his identity. He lived up to his new name, which came from God and reflected the work God was doing for and through him.
Jacob’s name also sticks out from the Genesis account, mainly because it means “he cheats.” Not sure that would have been my first choice, but boy did it come true. I think an argument can be made that Jacob was the first legitimate used goat salesman in the Ancient Near Eastern world. But like Abraham, God graciously intervened in his life and gave him a new name—Israel. A new name and a new identity, just like his grandfather, with a kingly dynasty to follow.
I paused recently when Davin’s mom explained to me why they chose the name they did for their son. She described this exact same phenomenon. With a rich Scandinavian heritage, they chose names of that genre for their three boys. As parents do, they lined up names that fit certain meanings and origins, and they gave their boys an identity. You can’t know what they’ll each be like, and yet in God’s mysterious providence they grow into those names.
“The name Davin, became Davin—his walk, his talk, his likes and dislikes, his personality. It will always be so,” she said, with the certainty only a mother can have.
A Norse variant of David—which means “dearly beloved” and “friendly Finn”—Davin is an uncommon and unique name. David, of course, was the biblical king whose heart deeply reflected God’s like no other. He was a man of covenant faithfulness, sin, brokenness and Christward hope. A friend to the outcast and crippled, a leader of his people. Strong enough to lead a nation in battle, meek enough to tend the littlest lambs. A lot like Davin, actually.
It’s a strange thing that the words spoken over us could be more powerful than the words we choose for ourselves. Davin didn’t choose his name. His parents—and ultimately God—did. And he lived up to it. A great friend, built like the Finns, and dearly beloved of the Lord and those who knew him.
The first time I met him he said his name, shook my hand, and I repeated back, “Ah, David, good to meet you.” I remember the spot in North Oldham Baptist Church where we were standing. Lauren corrected me, and my wife gave me a nudge: “It’s Dav-IN, not David.” I caught on quickly, only repeating that mistake a few more times.
I forgot his name the first couple times I ran across his path, but I think it’s safe to say I won’t forget it again.
It’s also because of Davin I remember, the most precious words of my life aren’t the ones I speak—they’re the ones spoken over me. I think about them often, especially in the grey, rain-soaked days of sadness when I wish I could talk to him face to face. I remember the words my Savior speaks over me, the name he gave me and the identity I have because of Him. When all that leaves my mouth are pain seared cries, I flee to the voice that tells me who I am—His.
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior’ (Isaiah 43:1-3).