“May I speak to the manager?” The now ubiquitous “Karen” meme probably brings the preceding phrase to mind when you hear my name. According to Wikipedia, being called a “Karen” is “a pejorative term used for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary.” Viral videos of “Karens” behaving badly have flooded the internet and vilified those who fall into the same demographic as me. There is also apparently a stereotypical “Karen” coiffure, which happens to look a lot like the way I style my hair. To be fair, many of the infamous “Karens” have been caught engaging in outrageous acts of defiance and over the top behavior.
My friends and family have had fun with this phenomenon, and I’m ok with it because they have invested time in getting to know me. They realize that I am not represented by the caricature of what my name has come to mean. The culture at large, however, has no problem invoking what happens to be my name with ever increasing mean-spiritedness. It is more than a little annoying, but one positive outcome is that it has caused me to reflect on the value of a name. Proverbs 22:1 says “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold.”
I am quite sure when my parents named me in the late sixties, they had no idea of the havoc that would be wreaked by “Karens” in 2020. When my husband and I named our sons, we went to great lengths to ensure that their names were both meaningful and appropriate to the times. We chose to give them contemporary first names that would easily identify them with their generation, and traditional middle names that would carry on the family heritage. We also considered whether or not their names could be twisted into cruel nicknames by playground bullies, or if their initials could be used as unintended acronyms. We placed value in calling them by their given names, rather than resorting to nicknames, to avoid a struggle my husband has dealt with his whole life. We gave them their names with the expectation that they would wear them proudly and represent our family well as they went out into the world.
Scripture emphasizes the importance that a name carries. The first job assigned to Adam was to name the animals. God Himself changed the names of His people to mark turning points in their lives. Abram became Abraham as a reminder that He would be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:5). Sarai became Sarah to indicate her role as a princess from whom kings would come (Genesis 17:15). Jacob became Israel to commemorate his struggle with God (Genesis 32:28). Saul became Paul as a reminder of God’s transforming power in his life (Acts 13:9). Names also often conveyed something about the person. Jacob’s firstborn twin son was named Esau because he was red and hairy. His second born Jacob was so named because he “grabbed the heel” of his older brother at birth. Moses, the leader of the Exodus out of Egypt, was named for the fact that he was “drawn out of the water.” Names are meaningful in scripture.
Our names are valuable to us, so we go to great lengths to protect our reputations and uphold “our good names.” How much more carefully then should we handle God’s name? Because His name is closely associated with His character, we malign God’s name not only when we use it as an expletive, but also when we reduce Him to a caricature of who He truly is. God’s name and character should be as zealously defended as our own names.
While we can never comprehend God completely, a journey through scripture reveals how His names paint an ever expanding portrait of His character. Consider just a few of these names, and think about how we might guard His name better within our culture. El Elyon, the most high God, is worthy of our worship. While voices around us say that with enough introspection we can be our own gods, we know that only in Him do we find the satisfaction our souls long for. El Shaddai, the LORD God Almighty, is our Sovereign who rules unwaveringly over His creation. The world may shout that God is dead, but we can be confident that He maintains control despite the chaos spinning all around us. Jehovah Shalom, the LORD Our Peace, is not a cosmic bully waiting to dole out punishment when we slip up. Instead He demonstrates perfectly righteous anger toward sin, and provides gracious reconciliation for all who accept His gift of salvation. Jehovah Jireh, the LORD who provides, cannot be reduced to a mere genie in a lamp. He owes us nothing, yet He lovingly chooses to pour out blessings for our good and His glory as He sees fit. I am thankful that I can draw closer to my Creator through these names, and dozens more, that He reveals in His Word.
Thankfully, I don’t find my identity in a hashtag, meme, or viral video. No matter how others may misuse my given name, God has given me an identity in Christ that cannot be changed or corrupted. When I accepted by grace through faith the free gift of salvation, Jesus exchanged my sin for His righteousness. I was reconciled to God, adopted into His family, and now identify with Him. It’s up to me to consider daily if I am representing God accurately to the world, or giving those I encounter a distorted view of Him. Just as my children identify with the names they were given as members of our family, I identify with Christ and carry His name with me wherever I go. As I go, I do so with the realization that I don’t need to speak to any earthly manager. I have an abiding relationship with the ruler of the universe, and that is more than enough for me.