I am studying Genesis right now and just read about the birth of Rachel’s second son, whom she named Ben-Oni. Rachel was the beloved wife of one of the Old Testament patriarchs, Jacob. As Genesis 35:17 records, Rachel began to give birth and had “great difficulty” so she named her son, Ben-Oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Rachel died while giving birth to Ben-Oni and the sorrow she experienced now passed on to her husband and son Joseph as they mourned her loss.
Interestingly, after the death of Rachel, Jacob quickly renamed Ben-Oni, calling him Benjamin. Instead of “son of my sorrow,” Benjamin became “son of my right hand.” Perhaps Jacob did not want to always be reminded of Rachel’s death every time he called his son, “Ben-Oni.” Names were very important in the Old Testament and basically described your personality or what you looked like. Jacob understood how a name can follow you. His own named meant “trickster or deceiver” until God changed his name to “Israel.” In this case, Jacob decided his son would not be a constant reminder of his tragic loss.
Like Ben-Oni’s birth, my own birth was not necessarily a joyous occasion as my father died suddenly two months before I was born and my mother was still coping with her devastating loss. To add to her despair, I looked a great deal like my father, who was a physician. My father’s doctor pals who delivered me, all commented on the eerie resemblance I had to my dad. That’s why my middle name is now “William,” named after my father on the day of my birth. As I look back, my mother never referred to me as “Lisa William” while other family members did. Perhaps the memory of that name was too painful for her. It would forever link me to my deceased father.
The name William means “will helmet.” I am not sure what significance that has other than a link to my dad, but later in life, I looked up the meaning of my first name, Lisa. Its meaning is “consecrated to God.” “Consecrated to God” simply put means “set apart for God.” I’d like to believe that God set me apart for His service that day in the delivery room in San Antonio, Texas. Although, it was a birth on the heels of tragic circumstances, my Father in Heaven, prompted family members to name me Lisa. As Jeremiah 29:11 states, “I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” God had plans for me from the beginning and my name reflects it and is meaningful to me.
In these times; however, our names don’t usually carry as much meaning as they did in Old Testament times. Parents don’t name their children according to their birth circumstances or because of the way they look. We named our two boys with names that had four letters so that everyone in the family would have a four letter name! But names still have significance to God and no matter what our parents named us, the Lord gives us other names based on our obedience to him. In his New Testament writings, the Apostle Paul often referred to the Christ followers as “saints.” In 1 Corinthians 1:2 he begins his letter, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all those everywhere who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord—their Lord and ours.” Those of us who receive Christ, are also referred to as God’s “children” in John 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” “Saints” and “children of God,” powerful names in the life of a believer, no matter what the believer’s given name is! Lastly, our names are so important to God that he writes them in the Book of Life, if we have accepted his son Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. What’s in a name? Depending on how we respond to God’s call to follow Him when he whispers our name, the answer is life or death. It’s our choice!