We are in an age where it isn't always easy to tell by someone's name if they are male or female. With slight variations, the names Jordan-Kelly-Tracy-etc. can belong honorably to a person of either gender. Even Stevie, which thank goodness no one has ever called me, can be a boy or girl. Names are definitely cyclical; for example, my paternal grandparents were named Harold and Minnie, monikers which are rare today. My guess is the name Jordan, which I never heard as a child, mushroomed in popularity because of a certain basketball player who was pretty good. (My maternal grandfather was Jordan but it was pronounced Jerdan, and I assume he was named that because of the river.) Can something as simple as a song change the way a name is viewed in our culture? Apparently, yes. In 1972, Bread released a song which enjoyed great success on the Billboard charts called Aubrey. Bread's lead singer David Gates wrote it after watching Breakfast At Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn. Changing the third letter from D to B, Gates penned a beautiful ballad about a love which never came to pass. But there was an affect I'm sure the singer/songwriter never expected. Before the record, Aubrey had been almost exclusively a male name. After the song, Aubrey became identified as predominantly a girl's name. In fact, a chart from the census bureau show Aubrey with almost zero usage for girls up until about 1972 but ranking # 26 in 2016. On the other hand, Aubrey has not been ranked in the top 1000 US male names since 2002. What a difference a song made.
When I ask my classes, "How many would change your first name if you could?", the going affirmative rate is about 1/3rd. I'm not sure who is more inclined to prefer a different name. I had a young man in class more than ten years ago who had a name usually associated with girls. When we would make cards for people in the hospital or grieving, he would invariably start his with, "My name is -----------; I'm not a girl!" He's my Facebook friend and he has shortened his name to a masculine version. I don't blame him at all although in his parents' defense, they were immigrants and it might have been normal in their nation of origin. Changing names in most, or maybe all cultures, is significant. It might be due to marriage or adoption or even, in the case of my student, embarrassment. Sometimes we get to make that decision and sometimes, with small children, the change is decided with no consultation.
We just finished a Sunday night series with David Yasko about Ruth, the foreigner in the lineage of David and Jesus. Most of you know the story- it's often quoted in marriage vows. In the vignette, Ruth's mother in law, after the loss of her husband and two sons, changes her name from Naomi, meaning pleasant, to Mara, meaning bitter. The definitions of pleasant and bitter are about as polar opposite as can be imagined. Of course, Naomi's story had the happiest of endings with her cradling the infant Obed, who would be the grandfather of King David. We wish they would all turn out that way in life but they don't. I've been following the travails of a Facebook friend through his posts recently dealing with some heartaches in the family. Truthfully, I had no idea who he was until today. I saw my brother's name pop up in reaction to something he had made public and I thought, 'How does Scott know ----------?' So, I looked back in his pictures and who his friends are and discovered, I did really know him. He was a former student who I hadn't seen since 1990 or so but his last name was different from his high school days, probably due to a custody situation. I knew him but I didn't recognize him. Now it makes sense to me. Names define us by ethnicity and biological family, by nationality and like Aubrey, by gender... or so we think. But there is one name we never find confusing; Child of God. That one falls into none of the above categories but it's the only one that really matters in the final head count. And my guess it will never be a category in the census that our world governments take.
Applicable quote of the day:
“It ain't what they call you, it's what you answer to.”
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