What’s In A Name?

Do you become the definition of your name or does your name become the definition of you?

I have always been fascinated by the act of naming. Around 10 years ago, I was tasked to write a speech on anything I wanted to present to the entire school. I remember vividly how agitated I was that celebritites were naming their kids dumb names that mean nothing, so I wrote an entire 5-minute speech on the importance of names. 10 years and one speech later, the celebrity kid names have gotten worse, and I’m still thinking about names.

Think about the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden: the first job he had was to name the animals. That was his first duty as a human being – or the first ‘man’ as per the definition of Adam.

I mean, we start thinking about baby names before we even have a baby. So many of my girlfriends have already thought of a beautiful list of names for their unborn child, and they don’t even have a boyfriend in the picture! We think of names for our future dogs. And to take that further, we name inanimate objects – a close friend has a strawberry plushie named ‘Strawberry.’

Bestowing a name is a responsibility.

This particular fascination with names begins with my own.

I remember the exact moment I started disliking my name. It all starts with the song ‘Amazing Grace.’ I was about 5-6 and in children’s church. I really disliked that song because every single time the word ‘grace’ came up, my friends around me would giggle and nudge me. Grace appears every other musical phrase.

I hated my name would pop up in worship songs, and every single time my friends would giggle and point at me like the song was about me. I hated how my name didn’t feel like my own because of how frequently it popped up everywhere, for example: I knew 4 other Graces by the time I was 8.

I wanted the name Cassie. Cassie was the name of my favourite Pink Power Ranger. Cassie was also not in any worship songs. No one else I knew was named Cassie.

In highsight, I definitely related to Cassie cause she was the only Asian female Power Ranger and more importantly, look at that sass.

But Cassie is not my name. Nor was Cassie the name that was given to me. Grace is.

I don’t remember the exact moment I started loving the name I have now, but I do remember the feeling of starting to love my name. It was through revelation of how I got my name and the reason behind being named Grace.

I am the first child of my parents. After 36 hours of labour, I still refused to make an appearance. I put my mother through 36 hours of unfathomable torture. But when my mum finally got a C-Section, and she held me in her arms, she knew that ‘by God’s grace, you were born.‘ From the very beginning of my earthly existence, I was named directly after God’s grace. I also have the word for ‘grace’ in my Chinese name.

By God’s grace, you were born.

And from that realisation onwards, I heard how sweet my name sounded. I started loving my name. I think I begun to love it because as ubiquitous as the name is, the story behind my particular Grace was so unique and personal, no one could tease me for it.

Then I had to figure out: what does it mean to be named ‘Grace’? It’s like naming your kid ‘Love’ or ‘Hope’ instead of ‘Samuel’ or ‘Esther’ – these names are not stories and qualities of people that are heralded with that same name. There is a first Samuel and he’s a wise prophet from the Bible, so when my parents named my brother Samuel, they hoped for wisdom in him. But names like ‘Love’ and ‘Hope’ and ‘Grace’ are names that are what they are. Love is love. Hope is hope. Grace is grace.

The definition of Grace is: ‘the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.’

My name carries that meaning. You can’t just be called Grace and not live out grace. In fact, if I wasn’t full of grace, I would be tarnishing the definition of grace because of how I am directly associated with it. I am also Christian so being named Grace has that extra religious weight. No big deal.

After all, think of the names you don’t like. Sometimes you don’t like a name because it sounds weird, but rarely is that ever the case if you are honest. The reason usually for disliking a name is because of the experience that name is associated with, also known as, the person with that name.

And then think about people with the same names. Why is it that all the Ian’s I know inherently have this indecisive quality about them? Why is it that the Sharons I know are inherently gentle and kind? Why are all the Kevins nerdy (and probably Asian) but kind and considerate? Are these coincidences?

We’ve grown out of our younger selves, mostly.

To add onto the complexity of names and the meaning we ascribe to names: my sister’s name is Sarah, it means ‘princess’ and she’s always been naturally joyful and things come easier to her, like a princess. I used to be jealous of how she was more musical than I was, how people warmed up so easily to her, and how she never had to try to be ‘more Christian’ because being a child of God was so natural to her. So did the ease of being a princess come to my sister because she was named Sarah, or is it because she is named Sarah that the ease of being a princess was then manifested?

Are you the qualities your name carries because your name has that meaning to begin with, or because your name carried those qualities and therefore you become?

I don’t know. I do know that we shouldn’t take names lightly. I do know that by virtue of Adam naming the lion, we now associate the name of ‘lion’ with bravery, majesty and a glorious mane. I do know that I was named Grace for many reasons I now know and I still do not know, and that grace was bestowed upon me for having the privilege of an amazing name like Grace.

To be named Grace is a beautiful struggle.

I do know that every time I share about my testimony, my faith, my stories – my friend described this vulnerability as ‘physical grace rendering abstract grace‘. And in everything I do, I try to diminish the difference between grace and Grace. I am Grace and someday I will become my name, but in the meantime, I’ll let my name become me.


What do you think about your name? What’s the story behind your name? I have a lot of questions in the post – let me know your thoughts on any of the questions in the comments below!

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Grace Chan 恩愉

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