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What's in a Name?

Posted on 06/07/2013 @ 11:04 AM

Many have spoken about the power of a name. Romeo, who is deeply in love with Juliet and who is limited by family names and political realities, is exasperated: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene ii). In Harry Potter, “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” (Voldemort) commands such fear (and respect?) that people are afraid even to mention his name. Names such as Madoff, Weiner, Spitzer, Sanford, and others have brought disgrace on themselves and on the communities and families they affiliate with.

In many (usually more traditionally observant) Jewish communities, G-d is referred to as “Hashem” which means “The Name.” To fulfill the commandment not to take G-d’s name in vain, a fence was established to protect from using G-d’s name in vain.

But what about your name?

“There are three names by which a person is called: one name that his/her parents call him/her, one name that people call him/her, and one name that he/she earns for him/herself. The last name is the best of all” (Midrash Tanchuma, Parshat VaYakhel I).

Our identities do not develop in a vacuum. Our parents give us a name and other people call us by a name, and those names impact both who we are and how we relate to and connect with a larger community. Despite the fact that we do not choose the names that we are given, we do have a name that we earn for ourselves. When somebody says your name, they and others impart meanings and associations. This is also true of organizations, products, and brands. When somebody says “BBYO” or “Leviticus AZA,” what does that mean to them? And what can we do to proactively influence what we would like it to mean to others?

What will you do today to you earn a name that you will be proud of? May we, together, help BBYO, our regions/councils, and our chapters earn names that will inspire growth and deep impact.

(My name is Ira J. Dounn, Director of Jewish Enrichment for the Northeast Hub, and I wrote this Shabbat message).

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