A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Names are important

By Fr Patrick Brophy SM


Painting of the Virgin Mary by Christian Guemy, street artist, taken from a small alley in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, Spain. 

Guemy focuses on paintings of beggars, homeless people, refugees, street kids and the elderly. He says he wishes to draw attention to those abandoned by society. This art was painted on a door of the building where nuns run a soup kitchen

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” I’m sure we can all remember hearing, if not using, this refrain at some time during our childhood. It probably made us feel a little better after having been called some hurtful name. Unfortunately, while it is true that name calling may not hurt physically, it can cause psychological wounds. Many have been scarred by the use of cruel or insulting names. People suffer long lasting psychological damage from teasing and these days it is quickly reported as bullying. Names are important.
On the other hand, any teacher will tell you that knowing the names of their pupils is extremely important. Using a person’s name shows interest and respect for them as an individual person. At the very least, knowing a pupil’s name makes it much easier to call them to attention! Names are important.
There is a story, which may be apocryphal, of a priest recently appointed to a parish. He was introducing himself to his congregation. This he did by singing his name – which was not a common English name. He encouraged the congregation to sing it back to him, which they did. This demonstration of the importance of one’s name so impressed a casual visitor passing by the church, that he decided to become a Catholic! Names are important.
Parents choose names for their children to honour family members; or of people who have impressed them, or having qualities that they would like their children to have. Names speak to identity, and identity is central to our uniqueness. The answer to the universal and oft repeated question, “who are you?” begins with our name. Names are important.
In Scripture, names are important. In the Old Testament, God continually names or renames people. Abram was given the name Abraham and Sarai the name Sarah (Genesis Ch. 17) to indicate the new roles God gave them. Jacob means ‘deceiver’, foretelling what he would do in supplanting his first-born brother, Esau. God later re-names Jacob ‘Israel’, meaning ‘wrestles with God’ after fighting with him.
The use of a name also implies an intimacy between God and those named: “Israel, the Lord who created you says, “Do not be afraid; I will save you. I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1).
In the New Testament this theme continues. Jesus renames Simon Peter to underline his call to him: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” 1 (Matthew 16:18).
In our faith, names are given at baptism. The child’s name is pronounced at the entrance to the church: “What name have you chosen (for this child)?” The child is welcomed and baptised by name. Names are important.
At Confirmation candidates are able to choose a saint’s name – one they admire and identify with. The candidate places him or herself under the saint’s protection and pledges to imitate their qualities. Similarly, religious brothers and sisters took on a new name at profession of vows, indicating the newness of the life they are professing.
This month we celebrate the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. This is the patronal feast of the Society of Mary. Clerical and religious Marists take the name of Mary at their profession of vows, adding SM (Society of Mary) to their name. Lay people, many our readers, also take on Mary’s name, calling themselves “Marist” and rightly so: Fr Colin’s vision of the Society envisaged a tree of many branches: priests, brothers, sisters and lay people. All Marists do this deliberately and with purpose: “To choose Mary’s name is to enter into a special relationship with her…” (Const n. 15)
Taking on Mary’s name, however, is not solely about devotion to the Mother of Jesus. Nor is it merely about belonging to a group or movement, or even just about imitating her and her virtues.
“Because they bear the name of Mary, Marists desire to be like her and follow Jesus as she did… they desire to breathe her spirit, to be humble and obedient, and to deny themselves for the love of God and their neighbour.” (Constitutions of the Society of Mary nn. 8 & 9) Taking Mary’s name is to strive to be Mary in the world: “as if living her life” (Const n. 7); “…they must think as Mary, judge as Mary, feel and act as Mary in all things.” (Const n. 228)
So to bear Mary’s name is to try and make her present in the world and in the church today. Those who call themselves Marist by taking Mary’s name, religious and lay, signal their wish to enter a loving relationship with her. Furthermore they wish to live as disciples of Jesus in the manner of the first and most perfect disciple, Mary. Names are important.
Happy feast day to all our readers for the Holy Name of Mary!

1 The Aramaic word for “rock” (kepa) is transliterated into Greek as Cephas, the name used for Peter in the Pauline letters (1 Cor 1:12; Gal 1:18), and is translated as “Peter” in John 1:42. 

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