June 13, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Our personal call to Christ

America’s love affair with Jacob and Emily is going strong.

For the ninth consecutive year, they were the top pair on the Social Security Administration’s new list of most popular baby names.

Unlike the drawn-out, hyped-up announcement of America’s most popular singer and dancer, this popularity contest was reported quietly, with no fanfare.

And yet, cobbled together, baby names provide a mirror of our nation. More so than the style of song or dance we prefer, the names we choose for our children sculpt their identities and reflect our dreams.

A number of shifts occurred from 2006 to 2007: Isabella inched from No. 4 to No. 2. Addison ascended from No. 28 to No. 11. Claire climbed from No. 86 to No. 66. Meanwhile, Britney (as in, Spears) plummeted from No. 474 to No. 564.

This seems to be an era for unusual names. Nevaeh, for example, which is heaven spelled backwards, rose to No. 31. (I’m not quite sure, theologically, why a parent would opt for the backwards of heaven.)

A labor and delivery nurse told me of one mom who, undecided about her daughter’s name, wrote ABCDE on the birth certificate, awaiting inspiration. The inspiration that finally trudged forward: keep the name, pronouncing it “Abssidy.”

Saint names are far less common today, though a few are staging comebacks. Xavier rose to No. 68, Dominic held strong at No. 85 and Lucia hit No. 311, having ranked at No. 523 just five years ago.

In Catholic tradition, choosing a new name signifies a new life in Christ. Saul’s conversion to Christianity was marked by his assumption of the name Paul.

When we are confirmed, we acquire a saint’s name as a source of inspiration and guidance.

Some women and men choose new names when they enter religious life. So do cardinals when they are elected pope.

Pope Benedict XVI explained his name change at his first general audience. “Filled with sentiments of awe and thanksgiving, I wish to speak of why I chose the name Benedict,” he said. “I remember Pope Benedict XV, that courageous prophet of peace, who guided the Church through turbulent times of war. In his footsteps, I place my ministry in the service of reconciliation and harmony between peoples.”

A name is an intimate sound, and it stands in refreshing contrast to the generic numbers we live by: Social Security number, student ID, credit-card number, IP address, birth date, license plate.

We’re reduced to a host of labels in life: profession, education, class, relationship, marital status. These, too, stifle. “If we are pigeonholed and labeled, we are unnamed,” wrote the late Madeleine L’Engle in her book Walking on Water.

A name, in contrast, moves with you, becomes you and reaches to your spirit. “Our names are part of our wholeness,” L’Engle wrote. “To name is to love. To be named is to be loved.”

Jesus calls us each by name. Whether you are ranked No. 5, No. 50 or No. 500 by the Social Security Administration, when Jesus utters your name, you are The One and Only. Singled out, beloved, hairs counted, finger prints memorized.

Our job is to live up to that name.

Christina, No. 175, means “follower of Christ.” I can still picture the wooden plaque that hung in my childhood bedroom. It wasn’t quite as glamorous as the meaning of my best friend’s name as stated on her bedroom plaque: Sarah means “princess.” But I knew it was an important calling.

Just as Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” he also asks us, “Who do I say you are?”

Are you proud of the answer? Are you living up to the name?

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. E-mail her at christinacap@gmail.com.)†

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