The Magic of Being Called By Name

Just because you didn’t put a name to something did not mean it wasn’t there.

Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care

Earlier this week, little 18 month old Blair pointed at me, smiled, and said “Pop.” It’s always a magic moment when your children or grandchildren first say your name. The recognition is powerful, reflecting both understanding and association: I know what “pop” is and you are him. I immediately thought of Forrest Gump first encountering his Jenny: “I don’t remember bein’ born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.”

To be called by name elicits a powerful convergence of universal elements. It is to be seen. When we are called, we are known. It is a personal action – an individual summons. An intimate acknowledgment. To be called is also to be affirmed. Here I am…part of something. I belong. Even in the most cursory form, it points to value – my value. I matter enough for someone to call me by name. When the calling comes from one we love or respect, it carries a particular weight. I see you. I know you. You matter.

In his book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), Seth Godin writes that we spend much of our life waiting to be picked. We all want to matter enough that another will choose us. Picked for teams. Picked to answer a question. Picked for a relationship. Picked for a job. Picked to be a part of something. To be called by name is to be chosen – to be picked. When someone who matters to you picks you, a world of possibility emerges in an explosion of positive energy and joy.

Another aspect of being called by name centers on our notion of identity. What are we called? Mom? Dad? Pop? Our name singles us out, marks our role, and defines our place. It describes us as it assigns us to our proper position in the world. This is why it hurts when we are called derogatory names and why titles matter so much. To be named is to get to the heart of the self – the identity by which we are known and by which we know ourself. “Pop” is a status, a term of endearment. The fact that it is short for “Poppy” and that little Blair is mimicking her older brother only makes it more precious. Not only do I have a named identity, I have a nickname!

Who we are is so tightly intertwined with how we are known. Often, we find ourselves behaving as we are known or labeled. To be called can be convicting as we are marked as something and expected to be that thing. In 1994’s Lion King, Mufasa famously tells the young Simba to “remember who you are.” A great risk, and a great opportunity, is to see ourselves through the eyes of others or as we want them to see us. Identity can be slippery when mixed with the expectations, or desires, of others. And with our own. Underlying Mufasa’s words is a call to more: “remember who you are called to be.”

Curiously, being called by name is only half of this powerful equation. Every call is met by how we receive. To be called by name demands an answer. One of my favorite recurring themes in the Old Testament is the “call.” God shows up, calls Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and Ananias. Each responds “Here I am.” How do we answer when we are called by name?  When little Blair calls my name, I respond: with a smile, with a hug or kiss, by picking her up, by waving, by asking what she needs. Our name has power, especially when spoken aloud.

Calling someone’s name invokes a response – a reaction. When we say “Here I Am,” we are indicating a readiness to respond. Receiving the call in this way is “showing up” for the other in an active, engaging fashion. “I hear you. I see you. You matter. I will respond.” When we acknowledge the call in this way, we in turn affirm the other. This is why deliberately ignoring someone or even unintentionally missing the call can be hurtful. It is a refusal to meet the “high five” and all of us feel it.

Today, you will be called by name. Will you be attentive enough to hear it? How will you respond? Today, you will call to another. Will you invoke the power of his or her name? I see you. I know you. You matter. These are powerful words and choosing them can change the world.

Showing 2 comments
  • Trish+Berry

    “Phillip”, another WOW!!

  • Wayne Feest

    I love the inner workings of your brain. So simple and not talked about , but very insightful and worthy of focus. You pull things out of the treasure chest and put them in play -good stuff.

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