What’s in a Name?

Have you ever noticed the names of various commercial enterprises?


Making a person feel stylish.

What I notice more and more these days are the names of “beauty parlors.” Even calling them beauty parlors seems strange to me. If you’re not beautiful before you engage one of these places, it’s likely you will not be when you come out. I suppose we can think of them as “enhancing parlors.” It is assumed, at least, that beauty is enhanced by a hair style. And, if not beautiful when the patron walks out of a “beauty parlor,” the hair stylist we can only hope makes the patron look or feel stylish. Some of the places are called “salons.” Actually, the word salon is French and is a place for receiving guests and simply means room.

Chateau de Conty, Coulares, France

Chateau de Conty, Coulares, France. This is a castle that dates to 1662. It is more than big house, it is once housed a French count and the turrets were for protection. Modern adjustments have been made to the building, but it remains a chateau.

Using a French word, like salon, gives style and class to a place. If I build a grand house on a hill, let’s say, I could call it my château. Until the summer of 2009 I had never been in a château, but if I built a house, I think I would like to call it the Château Bellais. That makes it sound cosmopolitan and very “classy.” However, the word actually means a castle. So if I build a castle I can call it a château, otherwise it is just a big house.

When we call a church a cathedral, the images of Gothic architecture are evoked. Cathedrals traditionally are grand buildings with lofty vaults and flying buttresses. A Gothic building must have large stained glass windows coming to a point. Some churches in metropolitan areas call themselves “cathedrals,” but they can’t be. Words matter. Simply having a large auditorium and many members does not make a church a cathedral. A cathedral has in it a cathedra; the chair or throne, from which a bishop pontificates. So, if you come across a church that calls itself a cathedral and there’s no cathedra, or bishop to sit in it, it is not a cathedral no matter what the sign out front may say.

Names of Christian church denominations are often confusing. For example, when I go about talking about churches, I tell people I belong to an “Episcopal” church, to which I get a blank stare. Most people have no idea what episcopal means. That’s true with the words Presbyterian, Methodist, and dare I say catholic, or even Anglican. What about Quakers? Why are they called by that strange name?

For everyone’s benefit let me define the words. Presbyterian refers to a theology in which the people of the church are its priesthood—the priesthood of all believers. Presbyterian comes from a Greek word, presbyter, which means priest. Methodist refers to a form of Christian study developed from the teachings and work of the Wesley brothers and others in the early 18th century who practiced methodical study and worship in their “Holy Club” at Oxford University. Catholic is not a single church over which the Bishop of Rome pontificates. Catholic means “universal” or “complete”. Quakers emerged from the same religious restlessness of the 17th century that spawned dissenters in England and Europe. Quakers belong to the Society of Friends and called Quakers because they were admonished by their leaders to “quake” or “tremble” at the word of the Lord.

Church of England

The Church of England

Episcopal refers to a polity of a church in which the bishop is the chief pastor of an area called a diocese.  What do we mean when we refer to Anglican? First, it refers to England. A related word is Anglo. In New Mexico, where I lived and studied for many years, regardless of the fact your ancestors may have come from Sweden, those who are not of Mexican or Hispanic descent are Anglos. Anglican in the terminology of the Church refers to Christians who trace their heritage to the Church of England. Do all these names have any bearing on our Christians today? To be completely ambiguous I say, “Yes and no.” The only way I see it making a bearing is in the way people understand and authority given to Scripture and to liturgy. They are “brand” names of a time in the past; nevertheless, they have a current relevancy.

Personally, you might want to consider the importance of naming things. Make certain that the names you invent convey the intended message.

According to the Gospel story written by Luke, Gabriel announces to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Son of God; further, he said she was to name the child Jesus.[1] In Matthew’s rendition, Joseph is told by an angel that the child Mary is carrying is of the Holy Spirit and the child should be named Jesus.[2]

So, what is in a name? Why is this special child to be named Jesus?


The name Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew and Joshua or Yeshua and means, “God Saves”[3] or “Savior.”[4]  A person named Joshua appears in the Hebrew Bible four times. I won’t take space to list them or locate them. The name Joshua or Jesus was a common name among the people of Israel and still is in one form or another. The first biblical Joshua appears in Exodus and he is Moses’ assistant, a brave warrior leader, and spy, who succeeded Moses in leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land.[5]

Christus Rex

Christ the King

Because we are his followers, we know the name Jesus as the Savior of humanity, and very likely we have heard the name Joshua or even Yeshua, but Jesus is believed to have been named centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah. He named a child to be born of a young woman Immanuel.[6] Immanuel is translated as “God is with us.”

Then Isaiah further identifies this child,[7] “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

The Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul

What does the name of Jesus conger in our minds? Do you have in your mind a man with well-groomed hair, in flowing robes, walking on water? The Apostle Paul proclaims that the name of Jesus is above every name that is names. He wrote in the Letter to the Ephesians,[8]

God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Or do you have in mind a vision such as John’s of Patmos when he wrote,[9]

“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

The name of Jesus, the Savior of Humanity, is such a powerful name that every time I invoke his name at the altar, I bow my head. It is from the Scriptures that I have learned to exercise such reverence. I am moved by Paul’s words to the Philippian Church in this regard,[10]

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

[1] Luke 1:31.

[2] Matthew 1:21.

[3] www.catholic.org.

[4] www.jesus.org, adapting the work of J.C. Ryle, The Gospel of Matthew.

[5] Joshua was originally named Hoshea son of Nun. Moses changed his name to Joshua, Cf Numbers 13:16.

[6] Isaiah 7:14.

[7] Isaiah 9:6.

[8] Ephesians 1:20-23.

[9] Revelation 5:13b.

[10] Philippians 2:9-11.

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