When I was five, I learned how to spell my name. J-A-N-A-E. Janae. I learned it wasn’t “Jenny” or “Jane” or “Janie”. It was Janae. With an E on the end. I learned my middle name was Janna. With two Ns. And I learned that all my siblings had two names that started with Js too.

The funny thing about names is that you don’t know what it’s like to be something else. People have always called you your name and you’ve always responded to it. You don’t think it’s a weird name or out of the ordinary. Cause it’s yours. And you’ve had it all your life. It’s not strange to you.

But the frustrating thing about “different” names is the spelling. Always having to spell your name, always having to correct people’s mispronunciations, giving them ways to remember how to say it. It’s not like being a “John” or a “Sarah”.

It’s just different.

And I used to say that I wasn’t ever going to give my child a weird name, a name they couldn’t find keychains for, a name that wouldn’t fit in the blanks on Standardized Testing, a name that had silent letters. Oddly I find that the names I record in my journals for future dreams are all “different”. Because there’s something unique in being the only Janae Janna Leeke on Google. On having a name that doesn’t need a pseudonym because it’s already “different”.

But more than that, it’s what a name means, that makes it unique. That makes it valuable. Cameron means “stubbed nose” and Amos means “burden bearer”. Ansley means “She who dwells in the ash tree meadow.”

But Janae means “God’s gift” or “Gift from God”. And granted, that’s all cool and great considering I was a surprise baby to my parents, and yada yada, but for years it was just “Yeah, God’s gift, whatever”. Cause despite it all, it’s just a name.

But is it? To move beyond Janae, even Janna means “Gracious” or “of Grace”, which ups the ante, but honestly, grace for years just meant a different kind of mercy. Mercy and Grace were always use simultaneously when I heard them and I didn’t know any difference between the two. Last semester, this was my definition of Grace (and I quote directly):

“Love and mercy being extended to one who does not deserve it. Usually used in reference to God. Also can mean the opposite of being clumsy, or ill mannered.”

This isn’t grace. Grace is being torn apart for years by shame and guilt to the point that there’s no hope in living, there’s no hope in being loved, and at the final breaking the point, the point of being stripped of everything you are, and being laid naked before God and screaming out in the pain from the purifying burn and just begging to be loved, and there, THERE in the filth and disgust of what you are, in your filthy rags and sobbing eyes, just desperate for someone to love thisTHIS, the weak and vulnerable and not-perfect, the flawed and fragile little child you are….and a hand cups your face, kisses the tears, gathers you into arms, and calls you His own “dear little one…” THAT is grace!

And to think, to THINK that my name means “of Grace”, of THIS kind of grace….I  have tears and awe and wonderment to think that I could even begin to be His Gift of Grace….

I am reminded of something Ann Voskamp says in her book (herself also bearing the meaning of “Grace”):

Naming is Edenic. I name gifts and go back to the Garden and God in the beginning who first speaks a name and lets what is come into existence….The first man’s task is to name…releasing the land from chaos, from the indefinable mass….When I name moments, I am Adam and I discover my meaning and God’s, and to name is to learn the language of Paradise….Naming to find identity.”

As creatures reflected the direct image and character of the Almighty, we are creators, namers. Alexander Schmemann says,

“Now, in the Bible, a name….reveals the very essence of a thing, or rather its essence as God’s gift…To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it, to know it as coming from God and to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God. To name a thing, in other words, is to bless God for it, and in it.”

In Isaiah 49:1, it says,

“The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother He named my name.”

God has called Isaiah by name, before he was even born, a name meaning “God is salvation”. A prophet, given a name and a calling before he was even born, and His name was a marker, a promise of what God would do.

And when we think of what a person is, and we give names like “fetus” or “it” or “vegetable”….don’t we tell children not to name animals we’re going to kill? Why? Why not name them? Because it gives them value. It gives them worth. But if God has named us before we were even born(!) then do we not posses value? Worth? Are we not His image then? To name a child, to even call it a child, is to place value on them. To make them more than a property, but a substance. A substance that is unchanging and has essential aspects to it that nothing can change. A soul.

And when we hear all this and we think of our names and perhaps we’re a Cameron or an Ansley and we get frustrated with our parents for not thinking or being unoriginal and doubt God’s calling on our name and our life…think, THINK to the names God gives his people, His Chosen Ones. Names like “Passionate For”, “Desired”, “Rejoicing Over”, “Cherished”, “The Delight of His Days”….

How can you not hear these and think there is no meaning for you? That there is no value of you? 

A soul, perfectly and delicately crafted with a name, with a calling and a future, has meaning. It is more than just a name.

And it took me learning the meaning of Grace to understand my own. To understand that my name is a gift, not just to me, not just to my parents, but to all I meet. A Gift of Grace. And a name is a promise. A promise of Grace. Of radical, life ruining, glorious grace.

Does your name go before you?