What’s in a Name?


Do names matter, or was Shakespeare right when he wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”?

I spent many years growing into my first name, Elsie. When I was young, I deeply wished it had been Elizabeth, like the queen who was crowned in the year of my birth, rather than Elsie, like the cow on the Borden’s Milk billboards! But I had a sister whose middle name was Elizabeth.  I wished I had a middle name I could use, like two of my older sisters, and my younger brother.

Eventually I got used to my name, but I clung to Shakespeare’s line about names and roses.  I lived into my name, and hoped others would associate my name with more positive associations than the billboard cow with the scalloped collar that I was teased about as a child.

In my fifties, I asked my aging mother why it was that some of us got middle names and others didn’t. She replied that when my next older sister and I were born people in her rural community thought giving a middle name was too Catholic, so she had refrained from it.

This set me to wondering if I could add something to my name. Hyphenating my family name had never really been a name-extending option for me. Rempel-Rempel? You see what I mean.

That fall I told my adult children that I didn’t need any more stuff for Christmas, but I’d really like to have a middle name.  Would they be willing to help?

They complied, and that year for Christmas I received a calligraphy picture and legal documents that would expand my name to Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel. They said it was the hardest gift they had ever picked for me and I loved it! The five of them (three biological children and two daughters-in-law) had given it great thought and finally narrowed my “middle name” down to two Hannah (grace) and Ruth (friend). What an amazing gift to get from adult children and daughters-in-law!

Delighted with my new names, I wanted to use them everywhere. I soon learned to be selective, for such a long handle isn’t always appropriate. However, when I appropriate Isaiah’s, “I have called you by name. You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1b), I feel God whisper “Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel” and smile. My middle names help me remember that I am beloved by my children and my God. So names do matter.

What do you hear when you reflect these beautiful words of Isaiah’s?


About Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel

As a young senior whose life could easily have ended in a nasty car crash in 2012 I live with an extra dose of gratitude to God, humanity, and the wonders of our human bodies. I am a passionate advocate for ministry WITH children and seniors in the life and ministry of the church. I started working in Faith Formation with Mennonite Church Canada in 2002. Thinking and writing about faith helps me see God at work in all kinds of surprising places. I'd like to be remembered as one who encourages others to live into God's good dream for our world. My book, Please Pass the Faith: The Spiritual Art of Grandparenting, is one big way I'm trying to share that encouragement with my peers. This blog is another way I'd like to engage people who care about growing in faith across the generations.
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