James Cochran serves as Director of Counseling Ministries at The Church of the Resurrection, helping to connect the Resurrection family and community with counseling resources and group programming.
My family calls me Jim. My friends call me Jimmy. My colleagues call me James. Personally, I resonate with the adage, “call me anything but late for dinner.” But as I consider the meaning behind the names we choose and the ones that are chosen for us, I am forced to acknowledge something deeply spiritual.
Today’s GPS asks us to consider the connection between the Dreamcoat Joseph of Genesis and the Stepfather Joseph of the New Testament. In imagining that the latter was named after the former, I was struck by the fact that each had fundamentally faithful responses to what must have been heart-breaking hardship. Dreamcoat Joseph, you’ll recall, was sold into slavery by his brothers, abused by his masters and thrown into prison. Through all of this he remained faithful to his call. Stepdad Joseph had his own troubles: I don’t imagine there was anything easy about being told you’re about to raise a child that isn’t yours–and by the way, he’s the Son of God. (Interestingly, most spousal homicides are driven by male territoriality. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, men are more motivated to murder their wives than raise a child that isn’t theirs.)
It would seem, then, that Stepdad Joseph would have done his eponym proud. But as interesting as this might be, I think it is less about names and more about values. Using his name as a tool, Joseph’s parents wanted to communicate that they valued the principles of faithfulness even against absurdly difficult circumstances. Perhaps Joseph was strengthened in his resolve to stand by Mary by remembering the lesson behind his own name.
Not all names carry the same sense of purpose, at least not on the surface. James, after all, basically translates to “someone who schemes to take another’s place.” So we have to look deeper, into the values that really matter. I called my parents to ask why they named me James. I knew my father had a favorite uncle named Jim for whom I was named (“the nicest guy you could ever meet”). I also knew this uncle was gay, in a time when that was even harder than it is now. My father told me he knew Uncle Jim wasn’t going to be able to have kids of his own, so he wanted to honor Jim’s legacy in the naming of his first son. I hadn’t expected it, but this simple conversation gave me a fresh understanding of some of my parents’ most important values.
We named our daughter Evelyn James Cochran. This carries with it a number of values that matter to my wife and me, like family and faith. As my daughter grows, I look forward to the discussions we’ll have about the process of choosing her name. Even if she adopts nicknames (or has nicknames thrust upon her), I know those will have values and stories of their own.
Maybe you know the story of your name. Whether you do or not, I encourage you to do some investigating. If the folks who named you have passed, maybe you can seek inspiration through prayer about the values behind your name. There may not be any great revelation (maybe your parents just liked the sound of Hubert), but I pray you find something that gives you a richer sense of who you are or who you are called to be.
In my imagination, I see Joseph going to his parents for advice after he learned his betrothed was pregnant. I see his mother draw him close and say, “Don’t you see? This is why you are named Joseph. In this moment you might think your story is a tragedy, but like the Joseph of old you will be faithful. And in your faithfulness you will come to see you are part of the greatest story ever told.”
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.