What’s in a Name?


The day had arrived for my sister to be induced. She was 10 days overdue with the baby who was to make me an aunty for the first time. She was to be in the hospital by 8 am, but had been told by the midwife it could take hours for her labour to start. I waited for my brother-in-law to phone to let me know she’d gone into labour.

Throughout the morning, the receptionist kept coming into my office to ask if I’d heard any news. By midday, I assumed the midwife’s prediction was correct and it was going to be a lengthy process, so I left the office to get some lunch. On my return, as I stepped out of the lift and greeted the receptionist, my mobile gave the familiar chime that told me a text message had arrived. Excitedly, I fumbled for my phone, expecting to see a text to say that my sister had gone into labour. Instead, it was a photo message of mother and baby!

All I knew was that the baby had arrived, and that was excitement enough.

“Look,” I said running around to the receptionist’s desk, “it’s here! It’s my . . . oh, I don’t know what it is. You can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl. I’m an aunty, but I don’t know what to!”

I phoned my brother-in-law, “Congratulations, Daddy. It’s here. What is it?”

He laughed, “Didn’t you get the photo?”

“Yes,” I said, “but I can’t tell what it is! What is it?”

“It’s a boy! Born by caesarean.”

I had a million questions: “What time was he born? How much did he weigh? Why did he need to be born by caesarean? Is everything OK? How is Mum?”

Excited and satisfied, I hung up and ran around the office, telling everyone I had a nephew, how much he weighed, what time he was born and that he was born by emergency caesarean.

Then I sat down to write a mass email to every-one who I thought would be remotely interested.

Then I realised it: I’d forgotten to ask the baby’s name!

The receptionist came into my office again, “What did they name him?”

“I just realised, I forgot to ask!”

I sent a message to my brother-inlaw: “Sorry. Forgot to ask. What is his name?”

Baby names are always a worry. You worry the child will be named after some bully you knew at school. You worry that it will be too common and boring, too hard to spell, too difficult to pronounce or just sound plain funny and the kids at school will laugh.

A text came back from my brotherin- law: “Elkanah.”

Oh, I thought, I hope that name will be all right. I rarely take to the names people call their children right off the bat. It takes time for the baby to look like an Ethan or a Lucy or a Jesse, but eventually they do. I hoped Elkanah wasn’t too hard to spell or too unusual.

I told the receptionist.

“What does it mean?” she asked.

“I don’t know; it sounds like it’s from the Bible.”

I typed “Elkanah” into Google and, sure enough, I learned it was the name of Hannah’s husband, the father of the prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1:1, 20).

But it was the second search result on Google’s list that captured my attention. It said that the name meant “God has purchased,” or, “God has redeemed,” and immediately I loved the name.

God has purchased! What a significant name for a newborn baby! A baby entering our fallen world, a world where we are by nature slaves to our sinful, self-serving ways, separated from the God who made us, intent on building up our lives here on earth, and destined to die after a few short years.

At least, it would be this way except for one thing—God has purchased us.

The story is told of a slave who was brought to auction to be sold to a new master. He was chained, he was angry and as he was brought to the auction block he cried out to all potential new masters, “I won’t work! I won’t work! I won’t work!”

Undeterred by this, the sale price for the slave went higher and higher. The slave looked strong. He looked healthy. They could get a lot of mileage out of this one. And they had ways of dealing with slaves who wouldn’t work.

Eventually the slave was sold to the highest bidder and brought to his new master. “I won’t work!” he spat.

The master said nothing. He simply took the slave back to his estate and showed him a little cottage in a corner field. “This is where you can live,” he said.

The slave replied, “I told you, I won’t work for you!”

The master replied, “This cottage is yours to live in, if you want it. I didn’t purchase you to work for me; I purchased you to set you free.”

The slave fell at the master’s feet and exclaimed, “Sir, I will work for you the rest of my life!”

Like the master in this story, God has purchased our freedom. There was only One who could do that, only One with the ability to secure our freedom from a life of slavery to sin and eventual death.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

That One was Jesus—God in human flesh. When the problem of sin and death first entered our world through Adam and Eve, God promised that He would send a Redeemer.

That promise was repeated through succeeding generations, until the timing was right for the Redeemer to enter our world as a newborn baby. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4–7).

When Joseph and Mary were naming the Son they’d been entrusted with, they didn’t need to consult the book of baby names. His name was given to them by an angel.

The name was first told to Mary (Luke 1:31) and then in a dream an angel came to Joseph and said that Mary “will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

This statement summarises the mission of this special Baby: to “save his people from their sins.” It’s because of this Baby that we can have hope for our future and freedom from our past.When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, there entered into the whole human race an in-built tendency to evil—every lie, every hate, every greedy thought, every unkind word, reveals our familiarity with sin. King David acknowledged his inherently sinful nature in Psalm 51:5 when he said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

The result of humanity’s disobedience to God’s law is that all of us are condemned to eternal death (see Romans 6:23). But God saw our hopeless condition. He knew there was no way out for us, because there had to be a consequence for disobedience. So He took that consequence upon Himself.

It is amazing to think that God came into our world as a tiny, fragile, newborn baby. He experienced life here on earth as we do, exposed to the temptation to sin. He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God and He died to pay the penalty for our sins. The apostle Paul says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

We were purchased the day that Jesus died on a cross on Calvary. We were redeemed, not with money, but with the life of the Son of God. Peter said, “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

What a wonderful name—Jesus—who has saved us from our sins and secured for us eternal life.

And what a wonderful name is Elkanah, the meaning of which applies to every baby ever born on our planet—“God has purchased.”

image Subscribe to our eNewsletter