Many people who have known me for a long time have noticed that I began going by a different name recently. Some people have approached me saying, “I don’t know whether to call you Hannah or Emily. I’m confused.” Believe me, you’re not the only one.
The confusion actually began over 120 years ago. My great grandmother was born into a Swedish American family. They named their infant daughter Hannah Amelia- or at least they tried to. For some reason, the pastor’s wife didn’t like the name. In fact, she disliked it so much that she convinced her husband to baptize her Amelia Hannah instead. She was Amelia for the rest of her life.
Fast forward to 1976. My mom was a first time single mother thousands of miles from home. She gave birth to a daughter and named me Hannah Amelia after her grandmother. But within hours, again for reasons unknown to me, friends disliked the name so much that they convinced her to switch the order and call me Amelia. That didn’t last either. Amelia was shortened to Emily and it stuck. My mom later married, and her husband became my adoptive father. When the adoption was finalized, they decided to legally change my name to Emily. I spent nearly 2 decades as Emily.
Fast forward again to 1999. Shortly before my wedding, I had to research the origin and meaning of my name for a college assignment. I decided to research Hannah Amelia too. What I discovered was fascinating: Hannah meant ‘grace’ and ‘favored one’. Depending on which root you look at, Emily meant ‘industrious’ and ‘artisitic’ or ‘rival’ and ‘competitor’. Suddenly a lot of things about me made sense. I was all those things, the positive and the negative. My whole life I had been competing for the favor and grace that could have been mine all along. Instead of being a recipient of grace and a conduit of it, I was in adversarial relationships with so many people I loved. I was moved to repentance, and as a reminder of the change God had made in my life, I changed my name back to Hannah Amelia when I got married.
So Hannah Amelia was on my checks. It was on my driver’s license. But everyone who had known me before still called me Emily, and to avoid confusion, I introduced myself as Emily in social situations. In official situations, I introduced myself as Hannah. You see where this is going?
I led a double life. God had shown me a truth about my identity in him, and I even made some changes as a result. But that change only went so far. When I encountered people who had known me before this change, I acted as if it had never happened. And because I didn’t want to make other people uncomfortable, I lived with the discomfort of not knowing what to call myself.
This continued for over twelve years. As I was finalizing the digital release of my album, I wrestled with different band names for several months. I had ideas I liked, but none of them were it. Finally I prayed about it again and felt that God was saying to use my name. Which didn’t really settle the issue. Which name was my name?
It was pretty clear that Hannah was the name he wanted me to use. Even though I felt him leading me, it has been strange hearing other people (and especially myself) use it more over the last couple of months.
So why am I telling you all this? what does it have to do with your quest for abundant life? The truth is, I’m not the only one with a case of mistaken identity. Everyone has a true identity, the way God sees them. Most of us have other identities that we assume for other people in our lives. We all, to a greater or lesser degree, let other people define us. We begin to see ourselves accordingly, and even act accordingly.
Names are a big deal to God. He makes a point of saying,
“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine”. Is 43:1
He makes it clear that he knows exactly who he is redeeming. When he did something earthshaking in someone’s life, they often went by a different name to mark that change. God promises to give each of the redeemed a new name in his kingdom, as a symbol of the ultimate new beginning. Names are so significant to him that he was even willling to be known by the names of a few of his followers (like when people called him The God of Abraham,Isaac, and Jacob).
There will always be people who disagree with who you. Not just with your opinions, but who you are. They will try to remake you in a way that’s pleasing to them. You can get stuck living a double life. Or you can decide who to agree with about your identity.
A name is a lens through which the world knows us, and we know ourselves. But only God sees our true identity. Changing back to my original name was a way of agreeing with God about how he saw me. It was about seeing my life through a lens of his grace, rather than my performance. What about you? You don’t have to change your name to Hannah to know you are his favorite. What mistaken identities have you taken on, or had imposed on you? What has God shown you about who you really are?