Then God said to [Abram], “This is my covenant with you: I will make you the father of a multitude of nations! What’s more, I am changing your name. It will no longer be Abram. Instead, you will be called Abraham, for you will be the father of many nations. I will make you extremely fruitful. Your descendants will become many nations, and kings will be among them! … Then God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah.—Genesis 17:3b-15 (NLT)
Immigrants from every time period have experienced name changes. Thousands of Tomases have become Thomases. Whole populations of Pablos have turned into Pauls. In my family, Heinrich Kesselberg from Germany surrendered his first and last names in 1691 in exchange for a land title in the name of Henry Castleberry. In countries that have a high historical percentages immigrants, almost everyone has a name or last name that differs from that of their ancestors in pronunciation or spelling.
Not only Abram and Sarai, but many other people in the Bible saw mutations in their names because of migration. Jacob became Israel. Daniel was called Beltsasar. Saul converted into Pablo, Yeshua was known as Jesús. And all these names looked different in their Hebrew, Aramaic, Persian and Greek forms compared to the ways we spell them in English.
The new name that God gave Sarai did not differ much from its original form. The two names merely reflect variants in the different dialects of the Semitic language spoken in Ur of the Chaldees and in Canaan. But the name Abraham offered a significant contrast. “Abram” meant “Exalted Father,” but “Abraham” meant “Father of Many.” By changing Abram’s name, God prophesied a new identity for him.
When immigrants change their name to fit into a new language or culture, they also adopt a new identity. With the new language, their thoughts vary. With the new culture, they transform their trajectory. Being José is not the same as being Joe, and the consequences of such a mutation depends totally on circumstances. When a new relationship with God and a new promise for the future accompany the name change, the new identity transcends the old one.
At the end of our life, when we migrate from Earth to Heaven, all of the Redemed of God will receive a new name from God. “And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17, NLT). Receiving that identity will make any change we may suffer during our earthly journal well worth the while.
Copyright©2013 by Joseph L. Castleberry.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland Washington. He is the author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus.
Follow him on Twitter at @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.