“Bye, Kristen!” I called to the beautiful, curly-haired Mom I had met a few weeks before at church. We had been in similar circles over the years, but had not officially been introduced until that Sunday. When I extended my hand and told her my name, Kristen laughed and replied, “Everyone knows who you are.” And it struck me funny. I sing at church and I teach early childhood music in a variety of places, so it’s true that lots of people know my face or my voice. Sometimes in the grocery store, people will say hello or look at me a beat too long, wondering just where it is they know me from.
But when they use my name, it’s a different thing altogether. Like when a student of mine yelled across a gas station last summer from her buckled-in car seat: MISS KEEEEERRRRRRYYYYY!!!!!, and I smiled for the rest of the day.
It’s one thing to be recognized by sight, but it’s a whole other thing to be known by name. We all want to be seen, known, and valued, and our name is a big part of that. It’s why I try hard to remember and use students’ names even if I only see them a half-hour a week, and it’s why I intentionally remembered and used Kristen’s name that day. Though I mean well, I’m not always great with names because I might meet hundreds of students in a week and hundreds more people at church, but I was sure to remember hers because our initial conversation stayed with me. It’s funny the impressions people have of us. Since Kristen thought everyone knew who I was, she probably believes I am someone who feels known. Though that couldn’t be further from the truth, I wanted her to feel seen by me. She’s lovely and filled with light, and it was important to me that she feel it, and the best way to communicate that was to use her beautiful name.
Kristen couldn’t have known the many times I extend myself and end up feeling deflated and unknown, negatively judged, or misunderstood. She couldn’t have known the number of invitations I extend that go unanswered or rejected, the times I offer a piece of myself like the shaking end of a branch. We get glimpses of our value, like light playing on the water, but we never get to see the depth of how we’re known and valued in this world and it can leave us feeling like we’ve come up short. Beloved, it’s not true. Mercifully, the truth is that we’re fully known (1Corinthians 13:12) and we’re called by name (Isaiah 43:1) by God who made us, and it’s not only enough but a treasure.
Thinking about names had me wondering about the origins of mine. Back when my parents chose my name, there was no google, no in-depth study of etymology. It seems like parents in the seventies just went on sound, mostly. My Dad says that my Mom chose the names of me and my three sisters, because we were all girls, and that her choices were motivated largely by how Irish they sounded. (Side note: if we’d been boys, according to my Dad, we all would have been named Tom.)
So, no, they weren’t thinking about the meanings of our names, but it doesn’t escape my attention that my first and middle names together mean ‘dark lake’. It feels like that sometimes, like I’m a deep well with a lot that is hidden under the surface. There’s so much that is unseen. The best part of me is the part that reflects the sun, the part that calls out a name, the part that shines. My God fully knows the rest, and loves me deeply because or in spite of it all. He calls me by name, and that makes all the difference.