What Does Your Name Say About You?

This week’s parasha is particularly appropriate for the first one of the new calendar year. It is the first chapter in the book of Exodus. In Hebrew, the book is called Shemot — names. It tells of how the Jewish people multiplied in number while in Egypt and sets the stage for the birth of Moses and ultimately the exodus from Egypt.

* * *

I was intrigued by the notion of a book called Names, but never could make sense of it. Then, I was introduced to a poem by Zelda called “Everyone Has a Name.” It struck a chord and still reverberates within me. It’s worth reprinting here because I believe it raises some important questions and makes some significant points.

Everyone Has a Name — Poem by Zelda
[translated and adapted from Hebrew]

Everyone has a name
given by God
and given by one’s parents.

Everyone has a name
given by stature
and the way one smiles
and given by one’s clothing.

Everyone has a name
given by the mountains
and given by the walls.

Everyone has a name
given by the stars
and given by one’s neighbors.

Everyone has a name
given by one’s sins
and given by one’s longing.

Everyone has a name
given by one’s enemies
and given by one’s love.

Everyone has a name
given by one’s holidays
and given by one’s work.

Everyone has a name
given by the seasons
and given by one’s blindness.

Everyone has a name
given by the sea
and given by one’s death.

What does it mean to have a good or a bad name? How does one develop a good or a bad reputation? At the end of our days, how will we be remembered?

It’s often been said that we are who we are. We are born into a family, in a particular birth order, and are given a name. We are born with personalities, likes, and dislikes. We are born into a socioeconomic class — in a specific city — with particular family traditions and/or practices. And, our individual names may also come with assumptions, preconceived notions, or expectations that are heaped on us from Day One.

And yet, we are not beholden to any of that. We are not doomed — in either a good or a bad way — to a specific destiny or way of being.

We have choices. Our behaviors dictate how we are perceived by others. We can greet each day with a smile or a frown. We can love or hate others. We can do good deeds or engage in bad behaviors. We can blindly and ignorantly go about our daily existence or we can learn and embrace new opportunities — with eyes wide open — to better our world. Either way, we each have the power to decide for ourselves how we will live this life…and, if we want to change and cannot do it alone, there are others who will help. We just have to be brave enough to ask for and accept it.

So, what does your name say about you? You decide.

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