What’s in a name?

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How prospective parents choose names for their children is fascinating to me. When I was in Uganda, a bishop shared with me that one could tell the religion of someone by their given name. He said that a Christian would have a biblical name such as “John,” or “Mary,” while a Muslim might be identified as “Ali,” or “Mohammed.”

In the South, it is not uncommon for children to have combined nicknames. “Barbara Josephine” becomes “Bobbi Jo” and “William Robert” morphs into “Billy Bob.” I was, in part, named after my father and his father. My paternal grandfather was “William Elmer Epps, Sr.” My father, the first-born male was “William Elmer Epps, Jr.” He was “Junior” all his life until he went into the U.S. Navy during World War II. There he became, and remained all his life, known as “Bill.”

My parents decided that they didn’t want me to become “William Elmer Epps III.” They also didn’t want a Willy or a Billy. So, I was named “William David Epps” and have gone by “David” all my life.

When I was eight or nine years old, my mother asked me if I had a little brother, what should we call him. I thought for a minute and, being a child of the South raised in northeastern Tennessee, replied, “Robert E. Lee.” We should call him “Robert E. Lee Epps.” My mom said, “Well, if that name is taken, what would be another good name?” Having seen a plethora of movies featuring a famous action hero, I said, “John Wayne.” He could be called “John Wayne Epps.” Several months later, I did, indeed, welcome a new brother. His name was “Robert Wayne Epps.”

For whatever reason, both he and I were called by our middle names, which was fine until computers began to rule the world. Officially, for prescriptions, military service, credit cards, and all the rest, I am “William D. Epps.” He is “Robert W. Epps.” To those who are related to us, or to those who are friends, we are “David” and Wayne.” Always have been. If I had known that “Liam” was a nickname for William, I might have chosen to be called by that name but, at this stage of the game, it seems pointless.

Our sons go by their first names, (we didn’t make that same mistake) but their middle names are significant to my wife and to me. The oldest, Jason, holds the middle name “Douglas,” which is my wife’s maiden name. John’s middle name is “Peyton.” He is named after a United Methodist minister, The Rev’d Peyton L. Rowlett, called “Pete,” who was my boss and pastor when I was a youth minister at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, TN, in 1974-75. James’ middle name is “Daniel,” to honor my maternal grandfather, Charles Daniel Duckett, who was one of the most important men in my life.

A few years ago, Wayne and I were talking about family names. He observed that I was named after my father and grandfather. He also said that he wasn’t named after anybody. I was startled by that revelation.

“You don’t know, do you?” I asked.

“Know what?” He replied. Thus it was, as he entered his 60s, that my younger brother learned, for the first time, that he was named after one of the most significant generals in the War Between the States and after, arguably, the most famous actor of his era, who appeared in 169 movies, not counting TV appearances and voice-overs.

In the Bible, very often one’s name carried great significance. For example, in Matthew 1:23, referring to Jesus, he was also to be called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” “Jesus,” related to the Hebrew name “Joshua,” has among its meanings, “Salvation.”

So, what’s in a name? Possibly quite a bit, depending upon the culture in which one lives. My name means: “William” – resolute protector. And “David” – Beloved. Pretty cool. Not as cool as my brother’s name but I’ll take it! Sometimes, there’s a great deal in a name!

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]