From an early age, I have explained my name to people. I’ve often been called the wrong name, like Mary Beth, Laura Beth, or Jo Beth. Or people would ask: Why do you have two first names? Do you have two middle names? Is Sarah Beth one word? Hyphenated? I would explain, I was born Sarah Elisabeth, but my parents called me Sarah Beth as a nickname. I always believed I would drop the Beth and go by Sarah when I became an adult. It sounded much more “mature” and “grown up.” Turns out I didn’t want to be mature and grown up after all, so I kept the name of my childhood. It’s who I was and am today. Names are important for so many reasons. My husband and I chose names for our kids that had a positive meaning. People often live into the meaning of their name. Sarah means "Princess" or "Cheiftainess", and Elisabeth means "Consecrated to God."
God knows the value of names. In several instances in the Bible, God changed someone’s name, marking a change in their life. Abraham to Abram, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, and many more. In the book of Ruth, Naomi changed her name to Mara, meaning “bitter,” representing the new season of grief and hopelessness she lived.
In some stories, people, even lead characters in the story, remained unnamed. This has often been a source of frustration to me. Some of the most powerful stories in Scripture were about unnamed women: the Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:4-26), the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:3-11), Pilate’s Wife (Matthew 27:19), the Hemorrhaging Woman (Matthew 19:20, Mark 5:25, Luke 8:43), the Shulamite Woman (Song of Solomon). I mean, the longest recorded conversation Jesus had was with the Samaritan Woman at the Well. I remember venting my frustration about this unnamed woman to my dad over lunch one day. He shared with me a conversation with a man who pointed out that the Eastern Orthodox Church had given her the name Saint Photina. Coming from a non-denominational and Baptist background, I didn’t learn about the saints that were celebrated in more orthodox traditions. I began to read and study the story of the Woman at the Well again, and discovered that she was documented in other writings to have been a great preacher of the gospel, responsible for many coming to faith, including some of Nero's household. She was called by some church traditions “Equal to the Apostles.” According to tradition, she and her sisters and sons were also devoted believers and evangelists, and they were persecuted for their faith, imprisoned, and later martyred.
Although the writers of the Scripture didn’t provide the name the Samaritan Woman, she did have a name. This is a great article that goes into more detail about the Scriptural account and addresses the way we have viewed this story in the church.
What does your name mean, and how does it impact you?
I am a Houston-based artist, creating vivid, thought-provoking art in my home studio.