What to call Washington’s football team?

I usually cast a jaundiced eye at efforts to change the name of sports teams that refer to Native Americans.  After all, I reason, fans love their teams, so there can hardly be anything demeaning in what they call them.  I do understand tribal sensitivities in regard to mascots–misusing tribal symbols such as eagle feathers and perpetuating stereotypes–but I salute the Seminole Nation,for example, in affirming the dignified reference to their tribe by Florida State.

But Washington “Redskins”?  Yeah, that’s pretty racial and hard to justify.  Change is going to come eventually.  So, if the name of the football team that represents our nation’s capital is going to change, what should it be?  I am looking for suggestions both serious and humorous. [Read more...]

A new name for God?

From Methodist minister Chris Brundage at Christian Century:

I have a new name for God, at least new to me. The old three-letter word “God” is worn out. Words only last so long before they need to be retired for a season. The word “God” has too much freight on it and too many associations.

I have begun to use a Hebrew word for deity: el. It’s pronounced like the English word ale. (This is an idea I borrowed from Madeleine L’Engle.) El is a simple word, found in the Bible, but it doesn’t have any history for me, and I never use it in my work as a pastor. I walk on the trail in the mornings and talk to el, who hides in the trees. Actually, el is hidden deeply in all things.

I bought a new prayer book to help me talk with el at other times. My old prayer book was looking decrepit, and the cats gnawed off the ribbon markers. My prayer book is published by the Presbyterian Church and includes the psalms along with traditional prayers. It has a Celtic cross on the cover and readings from the daily lectionary in the back, which I read in the Good News Bible or the NRSV. A new prayer book goes well with a new name for God.

via A new name for God | The Christian Century.

First of all, “El” is not a new name for God, simply a word for God in another language.  If a person wants to pray in another language, fine.  If in Biblical Hebrew, so much the better.

But I wouldn’t want to fool with the “name” of God.  The name of God is a concept I suspect we don’t fully appreciate.  In the Bible, God’s “name” is  fraught with spiritual power and taboos, from the Commandment (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”) to the injunctions to glorify God’s name and Christ’s promises about praying and acting in His name (talk about a claim to divinity).

Of course, “God” isn’t the name of God–just a noun for who and what He is.  The name of God is expressed in the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, and is connected to the verb “to be,” as in what He said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  Now that Christ has come, we have a name by which we are to baptize and to worship:  “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Coming up with different names for God, though, cuts us off from the historic and universal church that extends back through time and across the whole world.  Making up your own individual name for God enshrines the individual–not YHWH, not the Trinity–as the locus of devotion.

When names become adjectives

Some people have made such a contribution in one way or the other that their names pass into the language.  The Washington Post has an interesting feature that takes up some of these names and argues that the actual person was different from the adjective that their names became.  (At the link, you can link further to complete articles about each of these individuals.)

Mao was not a Maoist By Jung Chang

Chairman Mao extolled the “hard life” for hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Yet, biographer Jung Chang explains, Mao enjoyed the choicest food, lived among 50 estates and earned millions in royalties from the books he forced the nation to read.

Clinton was not Clintonian By Jon Cowan and Matt Bennett

Is President Clinton Clintonian? It depends on what the meaning of “Clintonian” is. But Third Way’s Matt Bennett and Jonathan Cowan argue that the benign definition — having a willingness to take on party orthodoxies — is the one that will endure.

Rand was not Randian By Jennifer Burns

Rand wanted to live up to her novels’ heroes — men like Howard Roark and John Galt, who lived for their work and cared little for the opinions of others. So why, asks historian Jennifer Burns, was Rand heartbroken when reviewers didn’t like “Atlas Shrugged”?

Keynes was not Keynesian By Nicholas Wapshott

The term “Keynesian” has become a Washington insult — “shorthand for spendthrift, wasteful, debt-ridden, incontinent, elitist, socialist,” writes journalist Nicholas Wapshott. But the elegant British economist was none of the above.

Machiavelli was not Machiavellian By Miles Unger

“It is better to be feared than loved.” The author of “The Prince” offered cynical chestnuts such as this to 16th-century politicians. But biographer Miles Unger writes that Machiavelli was far from devious: He took in orphans, went to jail for his beliefs and died broke.

Queen Victoria was not Victorian By Kate Williams

The supposedly dour monarch who ruled England during the repressed Victorian era not only had nine children with her dashing young husband, but even flirted with the help after his death. Biographer Kate Williams offers a glimpse at the woman behind the frown.

Freud was not Freudian By Howard Markel

Freud demanded that his patients tell the truth about their most intimate experiences. But author Howard Markel says the inventor of psychoanalysis was never honest about his deepest, darkest secret: his addiction to cocaine.

Jefferson was not Jeffersonian By R.B. Bernstein

It’s hardly news that the founding father who wrote that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. But according to biographer R.B. Bernstein, this small-government enthusiast was not above big-government moves. Exhibit A: the Louisiana Purchase.

via What’s in a name … and what isn’t? – The Washington Post.

One could take issue with some of this.  (Believing in sexual propriety as Queen Victoria did does NOT mean being against sex in marriage!)  And I suspect that every person is far more complex than some single quality that might be attributed to them.  But still, this is a game that we might play.

I am currently engaged in an e-mail controversy over whether Marx was a Marxist.  Was Calvin a Calvinist?  Was Luther a Lutheran?

What other names could we scrutinize?

What’s in a name?

You have probably heard by now of the latest survey of baby names, finding that the most popular names of last year were Jacob and Isabella.  But this article by Laura Wattenberg goes deeper, surveying the history of naming customs and noting, among other things, the impact of the internet in making parents think that they have to find an absolutely unique name, or at least a unique spelling.  A sample:

In the 1960s, a new cultural emphasis on individuality started us down the path we’re on now. More and more, parents wanted their children’s names to stand out, not fit in. Fewer and fewer children were given names in the top 25, and as the years went on, the No. 1 name in the country represented fewer and fewer babies. (While the ’70s powerhouse Jennifer seems ultra-common today, it never came close to the heights of earlier No. 1 names John and Mary. As for Jacob and Emily, they wouldn’t have even cracked the top 10 in John and Mary’s heyday.)

Then, in the mid-1990s, two forces turbocharged the dramatic diffusion of American baby names that we’ve seen over the past decade. The first was the Internet. Online life altered parents’ basic concept of name individuality. People started to think about names in the context of unique usernames and e-mail addresses. A century ago, one Amelia Jenkins might live a few towns from another Amelia Jenkins, and they would neither know nor care. But on the Web, we’re all next-door neighbors. Prospective parents of an Amelia Jenkins now type the name into Google or Facebook and freak out. They find dozens of Amelia Jenkinses. The name is “taken.”

The second big change came courtesy of Michael Shackleford, an actuary in the Social Security Administration who in 1997 took it upon himself to tally up and publish online a list of the most common names on newborns’ Social Security number applications. In past generations, parents were left to guess (often unsuccessfully) at name trends and popularity. Now, there is an official ranking.

The result of all this has been a sort of reverse arms race, with parents across the country desperate to make sure that their chosen name doesn’t come out too near the top. Half a century ago, 39 percent of all babies born in this country were given a name in the top 25. Today that number is down to 16 percent. The trend cycle is speeding up, too, as parents patrol for the new and the different, staying alert not just to a name’s current popularity but also to which way it is trending. Names rise fast, but they also fall fast. Miley/Mylee was one of the fastest rising names of 2007 and 2008; by 2009, it was one of the fastest fallers.

In eras past, name choices were aimed at an audience of family or community. We named babies after relatives, for instance, to honor them and to please those who loved them. Today, we leave the homages to middle names and approach naming more like an exercise in branding: We’re trying to position our new entry to give it the best possible advantage in life’s marketplace. That means standing out.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to uniqueness. We may like the idea of distinctive names, but our tastes are as alike as they ever were. Even parents with different name sensibilities are influenced by the same underlying name fashions: Vowels, especially long vowels, are good — think Owen and Ava. The -n ending is also good, as in Kaitlyn and Mason. But clusters of consonant sounds are bad. (Sorry, Gertrude and Herman.) . . . .

So what happens when the irresistible desire to be different meets immovably similar tastes? You end up with those six names that rhyme with Aidan in the top 100 names of the 2000s, and 38 of them, from Aaden to Zayden, in the top 1,000. The irony is that classic English names such as George and Edward, Margaret and Alice — the names that used to be standard-bearers — all have distinctive sounds. They aren’t prisoners to phonetic fashion; each of them sounds instantly recognizable. Contemporary names, by contrast, travel in phonetic packs. More than a third of American boys now receive a name ending in the letter N. (In decades past, the most popular boys’ names were more evenly split between a number of endings, including D, L, S and Y.)

Call it lockstep individualism. Instead of a classroom with two Williams and two Jameses, today we have one Aydin, one Jaden, one Braedon and one Zayden — not to mention a Payton, a Nathan and a Kaydence. In our rush to bless our children with uniqueness, we’ve created a generation that sounds more alike than ever.

via Your baby is unique, but her name isn’t.


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