Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 01 August |
Saint of the Day: St. Alphonsus Liguori
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

What’s in a name? If it’s the name of Jesus, a lot


Public Domain

Nicholas Senz - published on 01/07/19

While Romeo and Juliet were on to something, when it comes to God-Saves, their insight falls short.

William Shakespeare’s work has so infused the thought of English speakers that we often use expressions from his plays and poems without even realizing it. Common turns of phrase such as “send him packing,” “neither here nor there,” “wild-goose chase,” and “be all and end all” first flowed from the Bard’s pen.

Another of his famous lines came to mind recently, as we celebrated the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

As Romeo and Juliet discuss their seemingly hopeless case, as children of rival families who have fallen in love, Romeo asks what it matters that he is a Montague and she a Capulet. “What’s in a name?” he ponders aloud. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Their names, Romeo is saying, should not define who Romeo and Juliet are, or what they can do.

Though we might sometimes say things like, “You don’t look like a Mike,” or “Andrew Luck just sounds like a great quarterback’s name,” most of the time we see Romeo’s point: Names, the collection of letters and sounds we use to designate a thing, have no intrinsic connection to the thing itself. Whether we call man’s best friend a dog or a hund or a canis lupus familiaris, or whether we decided to call him “Toothy McBarkeys,” we’re referring to the same thing. The name itself doesn’t tell us anything about the thing.

But this is not always so. In many cases, names are, in a way, sacramental: They make present the thing named. When a police officer says “Stop in the name of the law,” the whole weight of the legal system is made present. When an ambassador presents his credentials and says, “I represent the United States of America,” the whole nation is, in a sense, with him.

In reverse, to lose one’s name is to lose oneself. You see the terrifying moment in a movie or TV show where a character wakes up with amnesia and says, “I don’t know who I am.” One of the most chilling moments in The Lord of the Rings is when we meet the lieutenant of Barad-dur who calls himself “the mouth of Sauron,” and the narrator says: “His name is remembered in no tale, for he himself had forgotten it.”

Names carry with them a certain power. Most especially with the “name above all names.”


Read more:
How a summer with the Bedouins taught me what’s in my name

The name of Jesus, far from being accidental, does tell us something about who Jesus is. The name of Jesus does really express the truth about Him. He could not simply have been called John or Joseph or Hezekiah or Zerubbabel or anything else. His name has meaning.

We know that names often have meanings, not just in the case of Jesus. Agnes means “lamb,” Agatha means “beautiful,” and Sarah means “princess.” The name Jesus, or in Hebrew Yeshua, means “God saves.” Jesus’ name tells us His mission and purpose. Jesus’ name reveals to us who He is: the God-savior.

And just as with the police officer or the ambassador, indeed, even more so, the name of Jesus makes Him and His power present, in a real and efficacious way. In the name of Jesus, demons are exorcised. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are baptized and freed from sin. At the name of Jesus, “every knee shall bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). There is no other name under heaven by which we are saved. (Acts 4:12)

In the Old Testament, and even among Jews today, the name of God would not be spoken. Though God had revealed His name to Moses, the people considered it too sacred to use, and God confirmed the sanctity of His name by prohibiting its abuse in the second commandment. But the name of Jesus is one we’re encouraged to say, to draw close to, to carry on our lips as a blessing and a sign of our belonging to Him.

Jesus reveals to us the Father, and reveals to us ourselves, what humanity living in union with divinity is supposed to be. He does that in His teaching, in His actions—even in His name. What’s in a name? Nothing less than our salvation.


Read more:
Taking the name of the Lord in vain is much more than “OMG,” explains Francis

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
Gold-winning Filipina Olympian shares her Miraculous Medal for th...
Cerith Gardiner
Simone Biles leaves the Olympics with an important lesson for her...
Mathilde De Robien
Did you know Princess Di was buried with a rosary?
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
Theresa Civantos Barber
The one thing we all should do before this summer ends
Zelda Caldwell
German women’s gymnastics teams modest dress protests sport’s ...
Lauren Daigle
J-P Mauro
After 3 years Lauren Daigle ousts herself from #1 Billboard spot
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.