Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What's In a Name?

I am reading through J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" with my boy.

Uhm.  Correction:  We were reading "The Hobbit" together, but then Aaron finished it and now I am just trying to finish strong.

Who knew that this classic would grab my son by his knobby little shoulders and take over his life for two weeks?  I'm absolutely thrilled (it sure beats the anime-addiction he was suffering from this Spring), but at the same time I was a bit surprised by his voracious appetite for the adventures of Middle Earth.

For those of you frightened off by the thousands of pages to push through in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this novel is the prequel.  It tells of the first adventure of dear ol' Bilbo Baggins - headed off with a company of dwarves to recover their ancient treasure from the fierce and fiery dragon Smaug.  And it's the perfect starter book for those who love tall tales told well.

Tolkien is at once a storyteller, poet and master wordsmith.  He weaves a story overflowing with terrible danger, daring rescues, three foot-tall heroes and monstrous villains.  The world that he creates is strange and vast ... and as real as the neighborhood outside my front door.  Within moments of entering into Bilbo's home under the hill, the Shire, Mirkwood Forest and the Lonely Mountain come alive with strange creatures, ancient histories and beautiful languages.  And at the turn of every page, we are transported to Middle Earth and join Bilbo and Company as they trek along in search of their treasure.

Without giving too much away (because I know that you are going to read it now!) I wanted to share with you a passage that I read last night.  Bilbo is fulfilling his role as Burglar and with the help of his mysterious ring that turns him invisible, he has snuck down into the lair of Smaug ... for the second time.  The first time he snitched a golden goblet and Smaug, being your typical dragon, knew exactly what was missing the moment he awoke from his evening nap.  In his fury he hunts down the Thief but because of Bilbo's own craftiness, Smaug is left searching in vain.  During Bilbo's return to the dragon's lair, we read this curious interaction:

"Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and Greatest of Calamites," replied Bilbo.
"You have nice manners for a thief and a liar," said the dragon.  "You seem familiar with my name, but I don't seem to remember smelling you before.  Who are you and where do you come from, may I ask?"
"You may indeed!  I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led.  And through the air, I am he that walks unseen."
"So I can well believe," said Smaug, "but that is hardly your usual name."
"I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly.  I was chosen for the lucky number."
"Lovely titles!" sneered the dragon. "But lucky numbers don't always come off."
"I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water.  I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me."
"These don't sound so creditable," scoffed Smaug.
"I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles.  I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider," went on Bilbo beginning to be pleased with his riddling.
If you are familiar with the story, you know that Bilbo gives Smaug much more than his name.  He recounts his adventures over the past eight months including his terrifying trip in the grips of a giant eagle, his trip down the elven river atop a barrel-raft and, of course, his pitch-black battle of wits with the horrid Gollum, during which he won the mysterious ring.  This "riddling" reveals more of Bilbo's identity than just his mere name would.  These descriptions reveal what his life has looked like.

In the same way, I often find myself forgoing the use of my given name for titles and names that describe my life.  On any given day, I go by ...
  • Sunny-side Up Egg Maker, 
  • Plate & Pot Scrubber, 
  • Super Sock Sorter, 
  • Toddler Wrangler, 
  • Pig-n-a-Poke Dresser, 
  • Hair Snaggle Detangler, 
  • Sibling Referee, 
  • Eat Your Veggies Broken Record,
  • "Bummer Dude" Discipline Giver,
  • Minutest Achievement Cheerleader,
  • Action-figure Itty-Bitty Gun Locater, 
  • Don't Bite Me Floss Helper, 
  • Cuddle Up Book Reader,
  • Get Back Into Bed Shepherd, and
  • Back In The Saddle Again Mama.

To name a few.  And there are many more that are not related to Mommying.

Of course, these titles don't actually describe who I am, but what I do.  From these titles you can get a pretty good picture of my day to day life and what my role as Mom looks like.  You can also infer from this list of names my love for my children and my passion for creating a haven for my family.  So while I typically shy away from labels, these monikers reveal more about me than my birth name would.

We can do a similar name study of God and discover His role in our lives and His enduring character.  Here are a few titles to get you started:
  • Redeemer ~ Making Us New (Job 19:25)
  • Bread of Life ~ Our Sustainer (John 6:35)
  • Counselor ~ Guide & Help (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Faithful & True ~ Dependable (Revelation 19:11)
  • Abba ~ Our Daddy (Romans 8:15)
  • Great Shepherd ~ Protector (Hebrews 13:20)
  • Rock ~ Our Foundation (1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • Author of Life ~ Our Beginning (Acts 3:15)
  • Immanuel ~ God With Us (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Living Water ~ Satisfying Our Spiritual Thirst (John 4:10)
  • Potter ~ Molding Us Daily (Isaiah 64:8)
  • Vine ~ Our Life Line (John 15:5)

With every page in God's Bible, we see another description of our Heavenly Father.  In much the same way that Tolkien wove together a picture of Bilbo and his warrior spirit, God paints us a picture of Himself.  Through God's Word we discover His strength, love, compassion, mercy and power.

Unlike Bilbo, however, God is not a creation or a character in a book.  He is real and Faithful & True.


  1. I loved the Tolkein books!

    Just returning your visit!

  2. I have always loved learning the meanings of names, how surnames came about, and studying the names of God. Great post!


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