On the eighth day of Christmas… What’s in a name?

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.                Luke 2:15-21

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose? By any other name would smell as sweet?” from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Is a name just a label to distinguish one from another? Does it have worth? In Romeo and Juliet the question is about love. Can two people from families who dislike each other, fall in love and be together? In our passage above, a name is not just a label. It garners identity. Possibly, it is the first thing we learn about another person. Their name is part of their identity. Tied up with identity, we find respect, dignity and personality. All of which, if you use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, would come under the psychological needs of a person. Without a name, a person cannot identify themselves, or be identified.

Up to the point of Jesus being presented in the temple, his name may not have been shared with the shepherds or other family members. We simply don’t know. Or there may have been heated arguments over the decision that he would receive the name that had been received from the angel before he had been conceived. Was it a family name? Does it matter? In a way I think it might. Jesus was given a name that was fairly common. It didn’t mark him out as being special or being in the bloodline stretching back to David.

Jesus’s birth, his childhood, his refugee status and his name don’t set him apart to be king. His unremarkable name is another part of the story that allows us to share and identify with a man who shared his life with us, in the grime and dirt of our everyday lives.