Recently a parishioner handed me a list she had come across of fifty names for Jesus given to him in scripture – fifty shades of great, perhaps? There were some wonderful titles, but I don’t think that in the whole list, fifty names long, maybe seventy words in all, that the name appeared by which his mother would have called him in to dinner, scolded him, soothed him, smothered him, mothered him.
Naming is a tricky matter. As T.S. Eliot seriously described, even “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games;” then how much more serious and difficult the naming of the Messiah, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Prince of Peace?
Lying in the arms of his parents, awaiting the first cut, the Incarnate One, Son of Man and Son of God in one tiny body took a name. A small, simple name, by which his friends would tease him and berate him and praise him, by which his teachers would single him out for merit or blame, by which women would whisper about him; a name which his mother would carry in her heart forever.
When we talk about our names, we tell stories about how we got them, who else had carried them; few arrive without baggage. For Mary, perhaps, it was easy; she had been told by the angel what to call him. On the other hand, one of her delights as a parent should have been to choose a name that would bind him to her, keep him in her history, make of him a character, part of her family’s story. Instead, from the start, she had to begin to let him go. He was not hers to name, to claim, after all.
And yet he was not named Lamb of God, Emmanuel, the Word, the Wisdom, the Be All and End All (that last is not strictly biblical, more of a paraphrase for which my own mother had a fondness).
Instead, as another mark of his truly human incarnation, as he submitted, or was submitted, rather, to the knife, and let out a lusty cry, he received the name of a small boy, a name wieldy enough for him to carry to the cross, a name before which no one might expect every knee to bow.
“When you notice a cat in profound meditation, The reason, I tell you, is always the same: Hs mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name; His ineffable effable Effanineffable Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”
T.S. Eliot, ‘The Naming of Cats,’ in The Illustrated Old Possum: Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot; Nicolas Bentley drew the pictures (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1940)