The blessings and curses of name calling

 

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What shall we call her? How does she want to be known?

“To all God’s beloved, who are called to be saints.” Romans 1:7

In the wake of the London stabbings a Yemeni Muslim, Tam, living in London posted on her blog:

I moved to England in 2000 and I had a few months of peace and a promise of a new life in a civilised country where people were nice then boom, 9/11 happened.  We became the most hated people alive real quick that year. And by we, I mean muslims. Sure, nothing major happened to me, but the comments were there, the minor physical attacks were there. I was always on edge. Always looking behind my back. I westernised myself as much as possible not even to fit in, but to become invisible. I did not want to become anyone’s target. I refused to wear the hijab for the longest time for this very reason. From America to Paris and everywhere in between, the world fell apart in terms of these horrific attacks in the name of Islam. We became that neighbour everyone bitched about and ganged up on.

Having just finished watching a video of Police instructing people in a bar to get down for their own safety, my ever so alert ears picked up the dulcet tones of a not so gentle man saying, “fucking muslim cunts.” And honestly my heart bled.

She said her heart bleeds when she hears such things because that is what she hears herself being called.

What we are called matters. And what we call others matters.

The names we are given show us our parents’ pride and joy. Why did they give us the names they gave us? What was the meaning they wanted to convey to us? Why did we choose certain names for our children, or our pets? What was the meaning we wanted to convey? What were the terms of endearment? How did we want our children to think of themselves when we so named them?

I’ve been called many things. Apparently the midwife who delivered me referred to me as “the philosopher” – based on my first reactions to seeing the light of day. She may have been right, or that recollection by my mother may have shaped me. That first call, that first ID may be the cause of this post. Who knows? We will be inclined to live up to any good name we are given. But we are likely to be brought down or live down to any bad call.

I was delighted to read some praise in my recent work review/appraisal. I was called indefatigable. (Why use two syllables when six would do?) It was actually “indefatigably good humoured”. I don’t expect the person who wrote that remembers using that word, nor do I expect that person to realise the effect that has had on me in my ordinary everyday existence. In those words is loaded appreciation and encouragement. I am grateful for the thought which went into the feedback to my review, for the moments my reviewer has given to thinking “what shall I call him?”.

I also know that it is not strictly true. I know myself. I do get tired, I do get pissed off. And God knows me better than my reviewers. He knows it’s not true. But I do find encouragement in the half-truth and the potential. And I do find a meaningful calling. So if I am called “indefatigably good humoured” that becomes a calling. It is who I must try to be if I am going to live up to my name and calling. I now think, “Fancy being called that. That is something to live up to.” My name might actually improve my humour and that may become a blessing to others.

The names we call one another can be positive strokes. Being called David, being called “indefatigably ….” are positive strokes. We all need those. But some of the names people are called, the names that they are known by, are cruelly demeaning and damaging.

It does matter what we call one another. The names we give to one another, the ways we refer to one another carries meaning. It is important. Not just annually, in such things as reviews, but in the daily, everyday ordinariness of our transactions. We remember the names we are called. They don’t just ring in our ears but in our heart of hearts.

 

We shouldn’t be shy in our name calling. If someone has been good or helpful, we should tell them. If they haven’t been we should try to discern, with the help of those three, Faith, Hope and Love, what they could be. If we are not sure what to call someone we should simply ask them: “What do you want to be called? What do you want to be known as?” We might be in a position to help them become more widely known as just that – and that is about helping people respond to their vocation.

In our prayer we listen for God’s call, to what he wants to make of us. Henri Nouwen spoke about the blessing we can expect to hear in prayer. This is how he heard God’s call: “You are my beloved, on you my favour rests”. He wrote in Life of the Beloved:

 

We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us….

Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.

Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning.  You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.”

We also listen to what others call us in our day to day dealings with others. We invest a lot in our reputation. We want to hear a blessing in the names people are making for us.

What are the blessings and curses of our name calling?

What shall we call one another?

2 thoughts on “The blessings and curses of name calling

  1. What a beautiful and insightful post David. How powerful words are; yours is a wise call to not be careless but always careful in our use of them, with those we love and with everyone we encounter. You bless me with your indefatigably encouraging ministry, and I know others feel the same. Thank you.

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