So, what's in a NAME?

     Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” (Numbers 13:30)

Note from Pastor Moh: In this week’s Text Message, I asked my son Caleb if I could use a “Definition” Paper he wrote for his Freshman English class at Suffolk University. In this paper Caleb tries to explore the prophetic significance of his “Name.” This paper was a great blessing to me when I realized that my son was beginning to see a God given purpose for his life…especially during a Freshman English class at Suffolk University…I pray that this Text Message encourages you to find the prophetic significance and purpose of your own God given “NAME”…SO, here it goes…

     The NAME of a person is an intensely personal symbol and a powerful indication of who they are. It identifies and locates individuals because it is the sound to which people respond to. In some cultures, names were given in order to express something special about the individuals in the community, or to express something through them. In Alexander’s World Essays where Alexander Inglis talks about different names and their meanings, he states that “A name is not simply a convenient label which hangs around peoples’ necks. It is both spiritual and emotional.” It is not all of who we are, but without it, we are less than who we are meant to be in this life. In my Judeo-Christian-Indian culture, a name signifies the essence of a person, and the first gift from our parents to be carried into our future destiny. A person’s name is an invocation of who they are like a title of a poem; we use a name to identify the nature and essence of the person, while at the same time, identifying the person and their individuality.

     Born and raised in America, my name Caleb Jules Unni is an interesting convergence of my family’s Judeo-Christian-Indian traditions. My middle name Jules was the name of my maternal grandfather who came from a Jewish-Russian-Polish background. It is derived from the Latin, and it means “Youthful.” My family name Unni means “Beloved Son,” and this name finds it roots in the rich Malayalam-Hindu tradition from the South-Indian State of Kerala. Above all, it is my first name Caleb that defines me and that which looms large in my way of being in this world. Each language and each dialect embodies and personifies a culture. In the book Torah Studies, Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom explains, “To translate the meaning of a name into another language is to capture no more than an approximation of the original.” Hence, in this paper I will embark upon the difficult task of defining my name Caleb by looking at its meaning in my ancient Hebrew heritage, explaining its significance from our sacred texts, and reflecting on the future potential for my life expressed in that name.

     According to The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible which explains ancient Biblical words, the name Caleb is of Hebrew origin (Hebrew – כransliterated as kay′luhb). Some believe that this name has totemistic origins. The encyclopedia states that, “Totemism is a belief that human beings have a divine connection with the Spirit-World.” The encyclopedia also goes on to explain that the name Caleb “…speaks of a man with canine qualities of faithfulness and service.” In cuneiform literature, the term dog is used of completely faithful servant. A Canaanite king may call himself the “dog” of the Egyptian Pharaoh, thus indicating complete faithfulness and abject servitude. The International Standard

     Bible Encyclopedia explains that the name Caleb “…was used either as a name of affection that stresses the quality of faithfulness or strength (like that of a dog to his master), or as
a name employed for a servant or slave either with positive emphasis on the humble and faithful relationship of the inferior to the superior. In some rare cases the name was used with derogatory emphasis on the disobedient and rebellious character of the subordinate.” However, in my rich Jewish tradition, the name Caleb was always viewed positively to denote faithfulness and leadership.

      The frequency with which the name Caleb appears in ancient Jewish literature and archeological findings supports the view that Caleb was a singularly personal Hebrew name. According to the Torah, the Law and Narratives of Moses in the Jewish Bible, Moses chose Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite as Judah’s representative to spy out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13). Among the twelve spies who came back from the reconnaissance mission to Canaan, only Caleb and Joshua returned with an encouraging report about taking possession of the Land of Promise – Canaan. The ten other spies were afraid, and counseled the people of Israel to give up on their long awaited “Promise.” Consequently, forty years later, only Caleb and Joshua were permitted to take possession of the Land of Promise (Numbers 14:38) because they “followed Yahweh (the God of Israel)” faithfully in serving their community. With faithful valor, Caleb took possession of the Land of Promise by driving out the Anakim (the giants in the land) and possessing Hebron (land of King David) as his inheritance (Joshua 14:6–15). Hence, the name Caleb points out the reality that things in our lives may not go the way we may want it to go but through the power of faith and persistence we can overcome the obstacles to our hopes and dreams.

     Eugene Peterson in The Message: The Bible in contemporary language writes, “Unfortunately, when people become fixated about finding the divine in the ‘next’ world to come, they often miss finding the divine, in the here and now – our soiled ordinariness.” The name Caleb provides an antidote to apathy. According to Rabbinic traditions, Caleb is the faithful one who follows the divine in the middle of daily difficulties. None of the Torah’s narratives is simply a story. There are various connotations to the Caleb narrative in the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, the Caleb narrative (Numbers 13) tells the Hebrew nation that God, the Creator requires humanity not to ignore the difficult problems of this life but to help transform communities through faith, love and justice – acts of charity (Mitzvah). Torah says “And so Caleb’s answer to the ten spies was, ‘Let us go up, let us indeed go up and inherit the land” (Numbers 13). In Torah Studies, Sacks explains the significance of Caleb’s words, “In other words, let us now make a new and greater ascent, finding the divine within this very world itself. And let us possess the land, not as someone who buys something from a stranger, but as someone who inherits something because of his oneness with its owner.”

     Caleb of the Torah endeavors to engage the dynamic presence and power of the divine in his own world. The desire of the other ten spies who feared was self-centered, and it showed in their reluctance to accept the responsibility of changing their world. They were unwilling to move beyond private concerns toward helping others. Sometimes people are hesitant in helping other people because some feel it would adversely affect their time, talent and treasure. However, Caleb of the Torah argues that spirituality is not self-centered and self-contained, a private possession not to be shared with the world. Instead, the power of true spirituality is realized when people reach out beyond their own comfort zone toward their community, extending faith, love, and justice to everything they touch. Caleb of the Torah shows us that people can be change agents; they can act without fear in carrying our acts of love and justice when they truly believe that no situation lies outside the domain of a God who cares for them. This is the essence of the name Caleb from the Torah narratives.

     In my Judeo-Christian-Indian tradition, a name is not merely a collection of letters put together as a convenient way to refer to someone. The Torah relates that Noah was given his name with the prayer, “This one will bring us rest (Noah) from our work and the toil of our hands" (Genesis 5:29). From the writings of Rabbi Paysach Krohn, Rabbinic tradition states that “Noah lightened the burden of his family's toil by introducing agricultural tools.” There is a spiritual connection between the name of an individual and their soul. The Hebrew word “Neshama” (soul) stems from the word “Neshima” (breath), for it is the ‘breath’ of God that gives life to humanity (Genesis 2:7). Rabbi Krohn goes on to explain that “A soul's essence is inherently divine and thus, a person’s name defines this divine essence.” I believe that my name is a divine description of my personality, an interpretation of my inner traits and a view to my future. To have the name Caleb means to boldly stand on one’s own convictions, maintain loyalty by standing with friends and family, and never wavering in the presence of fear. My name is my destiny anchored in the prayer of my father, Mohanan, which he uttered at the doorsteps of his church on Sunday morning, April-7-1991 (two years before I was born), that his first born son bearing the name Caleb shall live up to the potential expressed in that particular name – faith, hope, love and justice.

Note from Pastor Moh: So what's in a NAME? A lot of Stuff! A name has spiritual power because it is a reflection of your soul. It reflects your essence and your future! So, I hope that when you look at your God-given NAME, it offers you a sense of humility, the ability to see the big picture of God’s Call for your life. God’s Call (Gen.12:1-3) is actually God’s domain – and in God’s domain YOU and me as a children of God COUNT!!! The Lord actually works through our lives via our simplest decision to obey His Word and His Spirit. …and our names and our children’s names offer a window through which we can see how He chooses to work through us…Shalom 2 U!


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