What’s in a Name? : Jaci Tarrant

August’s post comes to us from NazTooer Jaci Tarrant. Jaci is a District Licensed Minister serving as Associate Pastor at Govan Nazarene Church outside Glasgow, Scotland. Originally from Ohio, USA, Jaci has lived in several countries through missions, continuing education and following a desire and call into ministry. She likes tattoos, food, languages, and she has a passion for giving a voice to the voiceless.

When Stephen and I found out we were pregnant—and really, even before that—we talked about names for our future children. We processed many different options, taking into consideration what our child’s initials would be, possible nicknames our child might be given, and the meaning behind the name. We settled on a couple options, and when our daughter was born and I saw her for the first time, I remember saying to Stephen, “It’s Tirzah! Of course it is!” As if I had always known it was her.

“TIRZAH” means “she is my delight.” We chose from the very beginning of her life to claim love, joy, acceptance, and empowerment for our child. She is a very wonderful 5-year-old who knows what she wants, and it is my privilege to journey together with her. It’s adorable because, as a well-spoken child, she introduces herself by first saying her name; second, spelling her name for someone to understand better; and third, telling you the meaning of her name.

At five, my daughter knows that we are delighted in her. Not in what she does or how she behaves, but in who she is. She knows that we are proud and thankful to be her parents. She knows that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, she is loved.

While working as a Social Worker in Ohio several years ago, I was told about a few kids involved with social services whose names were outside my previous context and were therefore names I was unused to hearing. The first two names were—“Lemonjello” and “Orangejello.” But the third name particularly stuck with me– “Shithead.” It was pronounced “Shuh- theed.” Culturally, at the time, I understood that these names were likely acceptable and even appropriate—which, unfortunately and regrettably, built up a narrative in my mind that was prejudiced and racist. But the truth is, I didn’t actually meet these kids. I was only told about them from co-workers and, to be honest, I cannot actually confirm if it was even true or if this was just part of some urban legend being passed along, and I was the unaware recipient.

However, this story, even as urban legend, demonstrates the power of names to subjugate others and promote racist stereotypes. If it was true, this third child would have had to write “Shithead” as his mark of identity every time he applied for a job or filled out a form. And if it wasn’t true, the legend succeeded in promoting stereotypes and racist mindset against God’s amazing creation.

It is my responsibility—our responsibility—to change the narrative. To allow all names to speak life and love without being judged and subjected to someone else’s standard of comfort or expectation. To make sure the truth we speak is actually the truth, and that it is always spoken in love.

It is common to meet new people and introduce ourselves first by our names. It’s something we have been given to indicate to others what they can call us, and historically it would have been something that also indicated where we came from and with whom we were related. If we don’t like the name we have been given, some of us might choose to be called by another name or even legally change our names.

We have names given to us at birth or that we choose later in life for ourselves. But then we also have names that people call us… names that refer to religious beliefs, occupation, geographical location, family heritage, sexual orientation, financial circumstance… and these names are often not loving. In fact, quite often these names take away the joy and love we are meant to experience. Rather than names of endearment, we are subjected to unwanted and unjustified hatred.

We cannot control what others say to us. We cannot control the names we are given by others. But, through Jesus’ love and freedom, we can choose not to own those names as our identities.

I grew up hearing the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Which is absolute rubbish because so much of our identity is wrapped up in the names we call ourselves and others call us. But we are called to speak life, love and truth into our lives as well as the lives of others. And that starts with the names we call people.

Jesus came to speak life. And as Jesus followers, we are called to join in that mission. We do not have to always agree with people. In fact, the church needs more healthy disagreement. But in all things—we are called to speak in love. We are called to identify first and foremost as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a representative of his love to this world. As such, any name we give others should reflect that love.

Several names make up my identity. The most important one is loved.

And I’m Nazarene, too.