Names and naming have more meaning and significance than we probably understand. You may love your name or you may hate your name, but the process and custom of naming seems to go back to our pre-earth life. And extend beyond this life. And vary by custom and history. And carry power or not — earthly or Godly.
Getting a new name
The custom of getting a new name spans history. In this world, it begins with Adam who was Michael in the pre-earth life and helped form the earth with Jehovah. Adam when he left the pre-earth life became the first man in the Garden of Eden — Adam the terrestrial man. Not mortal as we are now, but that in-between glory called terrestrial. He could have lived forever in that state. His new name came with a new body and a new calling. Eve, who is the mother of all living (named by Adam), may have been called by the name of Zion in her pre-earth life. Now, with a new life, new body, new calling, she becomes Eve.
Another name we read about is Noah, the prophet of the Flood — after his death he is called by the name of Gabriel. He is the angel Gabriel who informs Mary that she will become the mother of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith gave a discourse on priesthood revealing that Noah is Gabriel:
The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the first Presidency & held the Keys of it, from generation to Generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Gen. 1, 26:28,—he had dominion given him over every living Creature. He is Michael, the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures,—Then to Noah who is Gabriel, he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office & was the Father of all living in his day, & To him was given the Dominion. [Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 501-504). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.]
I recently read that names can also be a title and office, much like president or king: Margaret Barker explains that the name “David” is a “royal title, not a name.” (pg 25, The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God)
God gives Abram and Sarai new names which coincides with their having overcome trials, and leveling up with new responsibilities — Abram becomes Abraham, the father of nations, and Sarai becomes Sarah giving birth to Isaac:
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations. “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.…(Genesis 17:5-6)
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. “I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”…(Genesis 17:15-16)
Names and Naming Customs:
When we are born, our parents “name” us. We are now part of a mortal, telestial world, with a new name and a new body and a new calling specific to the sphere in which we are “born.” We become part of a family, that is identified by the last name of the father. If we are a female child, we usually change our name when we marry — taking upon us the last name of our husband, to create a new family name — when our children are born they become part of that family name. Ideally, the mother and father protect their children in this newly formed family.
My first name is unique, and I appreciate that. I like to be unique. I named my kids with names that had significance to me and had been tied to others who had poignant righteous lives.
Native Americans have different customs, often based on tribe. While listening to the book, Blood and Thunder, (a book about the conquest of the American West) I learned that the Navajos waited to name their babies until they could see their personalities. Other Native Americans also have naming traditions:
Brooke (Wompsi’kuk Skeesucks) a Mohegan, notes that in the Native American naming tradition, names should change. Children receive names that are descriptive, they may be given new names at adolescence, and again as they go through life according to what their life experiences and accomplishments are. Society bestows a new name–a new name is earned. W.S. Brooke explains, “Some people are like lakes. They change very little as they age. (…) Some people are like rivers. When you trace the Mississippi, or any other river at its source, it can be very small. Later on it can be wide and strong. When it meets the ocean, it spreads out.” In other words, names should change as the individual changes. (Psychology Today)
I have a Chinese Friend, from Taiwan, who explained to me that when she came to the United States, she took a new name — American name. But she actually went back to her traditional Chinese name when she found out that the American name she chose — “Bessie” — was the name of a cow.
What does it mean to take upon you the name of Christ?
I don’t think we really understand the full implications of taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. Especially as it is related to the last day:
Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day. (3 Nephi 27: 5-6)
When you take a name upon you — you identify with the meaning of that name. You become part of a family — such as when you take a last name.
I think names also have power. In our telestial world, some names bring worldly honor and fame — Rockefeller, Carnigie, Kennedy — these names have a kind of power in this world.
The name of Jesus Christ has power, and yet people sling it around, not even knowing this. When we take the name of the Lord in vain — it means we are using his name without authority, without the attendant power.
Christ’s name has power within and beyond this mortal existence. We give blessings in the name of Christ, and invoke His sacred name, because it has power. When God talks of creating the world, he says he did it by his Word. Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.… (John 1:2-3)
In ancient near eastern covenant relationships, the King protected all his people — all who belonged to his kingdom, if they kept the laws of the King. This resembles the model of Christ as the King of the Kingdom of God — He will protect and save us from the effects of death if we are part of His kingdom (and keep His laws.)
The name of God is holy, and the Jews held it sacred:
Rabbinic Judaism describes seven names which are so holy that, once written, should not be erased: The Tetragrammaton (whether written YHWH or Adonai), El (“God”), Eloah (“God”), Elohim (“Gods”), Shaddai (“God Almighty”), Ehyeh, and Tzevaot (“[of] Hosts”). (ref)
We take the name of Christ when we are baptized in his name — it is a sign that we have decided to follow him. And it comes with our promise to remember him and eventually, as we continue to repent He will baptize us with fire. We become “born again” — a new creature in Christ with a new name. Just as we receive a new name at our mortal birth.
John explains that those who have ears to hear, and who overcome trials will receive a new name:
To the one who is victorious, I will give the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone inscribed with a new name, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17)