Hello, My Name is ESPN

colson2It was an event all new parents enjoy: watching their unborn child turn somersaults on the ultrasound screen. Seeing their child hiccup or suck his thumb makes parents realize that, for real, there is a baby in there. A New Zealand couple, Pat and Sheena Wheaton, were so impressed with the reality of their child that they decided to name their son “4real.” That’s when their troubles began. A judge told them they couldn’t do it: New Zealand law forbids the use of numbers when naming babies—also, names that are likely to offend, such as Hitler or Satan. Bloggers around the world attacked the Wheatons for their foolishness, calling them names that can’t be repeated here. The “4real” controversy caused a furor at our own blog site, The Point. The Wheatons are not alone in wanting to give their child a name so distinctive it raises eyebrows—and snickers. Two sets of American parents have named their sons ESPN. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her baby after a fruit: Apple. Comedian Penn Jillette named his daughter Moxie CrimeFighter—apparently anticipating a future career in law enforcement. But after we stop laughing, we ought to ask ourselves: How will these bizarre names affect the children who bear them? According to the research, names are far more significant in shaping our characters and personalities than many of us realize. Susan Seligson writes in Redbook magazine that “an increasing amount of research suggests that our names and our destinies may be inexorably intertwined.” Often, she says, the prophecy in a name becomes uncannily self-fulfilling. For example, one study showed that girls with exceedingly feminine names like Lucy and Rose “did in fact have more girlish personalities.” And although it’s hard to prove, she writes, “our personalities may also evolve to fulfill the subtle mandates our names carry.” Amy and Leon Kass, professors at the University of Chicago, write in First Things that the naming of children is an expression of the parents’ best hopes and dreams. Parents may memorialize a worthy ancestor, historical figure, or biblical character, hoping certain qualities associated with that person will rub off onto the child. In Scripture, a person’s name was often intimately linked with what God planned to do with his or her life. For example, at the command of the Archangel Gabriel, our Lord was named Jesus, which means “God will save us.” According to Amy and Leon Kass, the act of naming imparts a blessing to the child whereby parents “dedicate themselves to the work of making good the promise conveyed in the good name thus bestowed.” This means that Christians, of all people, need to name their children with care. If we desire to raise a goodly seed, as the Puritans put it, we need every resource available to us, including names that point to the kind of character we seek to instill in our children. Regardless of what we name our kids, we need to teach them how to make good names for themselves. Most important of all, we need to teach our Lucys and Roses, our Apples and our ESPNs, how to identify their own names with the name that is, for real, above all names—Jesus Christ.    
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For Further Reading and Information
Amy and Leon Kass, “What’s Your Name?” First Things, November 1995. Alexandria Alter, “The Baby-Name Business,” Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2007. (May require subscription.)   Jay D. Homnick, “Naming Children in the Digital Age,” American Spectator, 27 June 2007.   Rochelle Riley, “Do the Kid a Favor: Pick a Name for 4Real Life,” Free Press, 27 June 2007.   “What’s In A Baby Name? Plenty of ‘Y’s,’” Test Pattern, 29 June 2007.   Anne Morse, “From Moon Unit Zappa to 4Real,” The Point, 27 June 2007. Roberto Rivera, “What’s In A Name?The Point, 30 October 2006.


Chuck Colson



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