The Impact of a Name

A recent New York Times article highlighted a loosely collaborative project between the grandson of Tolkien and the great-great-grandson of Dickens.The project consists of two YA fantasy novels by Michael Tolkien that will be narrated in audiobook by Gerald Dickens.

Individuals like Tolkien and Dickens had such a widespread influence that even generations after their deaths, their names carry clout.

That’s the degree to which they impacted the world around them through their stories. By no means did their books represent the sum total of their personalities, but hearing their names brings certain character traits to mind which were reflected in their works.

Publishers seek to take advantage of the fame attached to these names to sell books, and it’s an effective strategy because readers are drawn to names. The name on the cover of a book offers a promise of a certain type of story, and as I reader I’ve selected books based my previous experience with certain authors. I see the name, and I’m inclined to purchase the book, because in the past I’ve enjoyed their stories.

However, the impact of a name applies to more than the world of reading and writing–it’s part of our everyday lives. While we may not have the impact of a Tolkien or Dickens, we all have spheres of influence. So what do we want our name to bring to the minds of those around us?

A name becomes a demonstration of character, whether we’re aware of it or not. For example, when I think of a dear friend of mine, her traits of zeal and passion for God along with her compassion toward those around her immediately come to mind.

So our names reflect aspects of our personality and character, which is perhaps why Proverbs 22:1 says “a good name is more desirable than great riches.” It’s not the name itself, but what it demonstrates about our hearts.

Our words (written and spoken) and our deeds become connected with our names, so it’s worth reflecting on what sort of character we’re displaying…because it may be remembered for years to come.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: pupski

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14 Responses to The Impact of a Name

  1. Jenny Miller says:

    Deep and humbling. That’s what this article brings to mind. How can we know the impact of our own names when we as yet don’t have one? Or how can we choose a pen name to have a certain impact, especially when that name may not bring the same things to mind in the minds of others?

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Jenny, I’m glad this provoked thought. More than the name itself, I think it’s the deeds and words and attitudes we express that “make” our name. Because name comes to represent character.

      As it applies to writers and online presence, we’re mostly showing one dimension of our personality, but we’re still making impressions on people. And that matters, not because we should spend our time worrying about what others think, but because our lives testify to Christ.

      Of course, the literal name can have appeal or lack thereof, but in time that doesn’t matter–it’s the identity behind the name that counts.

  2. Lots of thoughts. Too many for a comment here. But quickly–God’s name and his word and acts are intertwined. When we twist his word, we seek to do violence to his name.

    And, yes, I agree that it’s important for us to speak with care.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Yes, I think this is a big topic with a lot more to cover. I enjoy blogging, but often feel like I’m just touching the tip of an iceberg (to borrow a cliche). You’ve brought forward an important component of the impact of names.

      I love that when God told Moses His name in Exodus, He described His character. And elsewhere, when He references knowing His name, it’s clear that He means knowing who He is, not just knowing the literal name.

      Since we do represent Christ, as you said, when we twist His word or pin His name on something that goes against His character, it’s a serious thing…which comes back to us taking care with our words and actions.

  3. Here here! Excellent.

    Jesus means Savior.

    The importance of names is on nearly every page of the Bible.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Thanks, Scathe. You’re absolutely right about the significance of names showing up all over the Bible.

      God chose to reveal so much of His character through His names. As you said, Jesus proclaims salvation. And Immanuel speaks of God with us. There are so many more, all rich in meaning.

  4. TheQuietPen says:

    One of the reasons I used “TheQuietPen” exclusively for my first year of blogging and commenting is that I was worried about using my real name. I was nervous about my boss–or a future boss–or anyone finding out this other side of me, and judging me negatively. Personal names have the power to divide social worlds, tear them apart–or transcend them. Eventually, God showed me that if I’m dedicating this all to Him, and I know He’s calling me to write, then what do I have to be afraid of or ashamed of?

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Janeen. I agree that our actions (in your case, choosing to write and blog) say something about us…and sometimes people will judge or take offense…but you’re equally right that when God calls us to do something, we shouldn’t fear or shrink back. Like so much in life, that’s easier said than done. I applaud your decision to use your name!

  5. Great thoughts, Sarah. It is sobering when we stop and think about how much we unconsciously associate with just a person’s name, and it’s good motivation to take care of your reputation. Especially for those of us pursuing publication in an age where a published novel can make our name known across the globe.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Good point about how globalization makes it so easy for our actions and words to spread to a wide audience. So many of the things that go viral–whether YouTube films, blog posts, or books–have an impact beyond what the creators originally intended. And I want my impact to be positive, whether or not I’m ever well known. 🙂

  6. Maria Tatham says:

    Sarah, you’ve used an interesting happening in the publishing world to move on to an important topic: what do those around us think of when our name is mentioned? Yes, this is a humbling topic, and we must not only guard our own names from being linked to sin but guard the Name of Him Whom we represent. Not that He needs our help or protection, but His Name can be blasphemed because of us. May He help us to be worthy (in our small way)!
    Thank you!

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Well said, Maria! It does take His help to guard our hearts and our words. Of course, we’ll still make mistakes sometimes, but asking for His grace helps us to be mindful of our words and how they reflect or fail to reflect the nature of God.

  7. Emily Sawyer says:

    Wow, wonderful post! Very thought provoking.

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