2,000 years ago the Jewish sages taught that we have at least three names during our lifetime – 1) the name our parents give us, 2) the name our friends call us, and 3)the name we earn for ourselves in the world.
The Name Our Parents Give Us
Parents choose names for a variety of reasons. They may name us after a deceased relative. They choose a name they wish they had been called. They may simply choose a name they like.
One couple in my synagogue encountered a name in an ancient Greek myth that they couldn't get out of their head, so they used it for their first son.
The truth is that the name we are given reflects our parents' wishes. We do not choose it. We do not control it. We may love it. We may hate it. Yet, we have no choice but to be identified with it.
The Name Our Friends Call Us
We have a bit more control over the name our friends call us. It often derives from our personality or skills or interests. Yet, it, too, often falls outside of our control.
My grandfather was named Ervin, but his friends called him Tam. He was tall, and his friends thought he looked like a famous basketball player of the time named Tam. Thus, he earned a nickname for life.
Then he said to her during the Bat Mitzvah service, “My hope, my prayer is that you will live your life in such a way that when others see you they will see in you the light of loving, ethical and compassionate concern that we call the face of the Divine, and see in your actions the image of God implanted within us.”
“So that when you are called by the Divine to render account for the way you used the gift of life entrusted to you, the Good Lord himself will reach out and touching your face, call you ‘shaynah punim' as well.”
God calls us to live up to our names.
For more stories like these and more inspiration to live up to your name, check out the second half of Shalom for the Heart: 50 Torah-Inspired Devotions for a Sacred Life,which unpacks Torah verses from the Book of Exodus, which in Hebrew is known as “Names.”