Names used to have meaning. Not so much anymore.
My first name, Clinton, apparently derives from a surname which referred to the original name-sake’s hometown. This, of course, was not what my parents intended when they named me. And, no, I was not named after Bill or any other politician. What my parents wanted was a relatively unique name that wasn’t so crazy that I would get beat up every day in school. They weren’t concerned with the meaning of the name, but mostly with how it sounded, and if they would get tired of yelling it (they most likely did).
On the other hand, many biblical characters have names with meaning. Some, not so good (Jacob means “he who grasps the heel,” which is a funny way of saying he is a cheater). Some, just plain funny (like Uz and his brother Buz, which, as far as I know, don’t mean anything…but they speak for themselves).
“Rebekah” is an interesting name. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), her name may have roots in Arabic, where the related words mean “a tie-rope for animals,” or even the knot in the rope. Related Hebrew words refer to young, fattened calves, or the stalls where they are tied up.
I’m sure her parents meant well, but having a name that could be translated as “noose” or “cow” doesn’t seem that great. Of course, they probably meant that her beauty could capture men’s hearts, or that she was lovely and valuable like a well-raised calf. I still think I would have thought twice about giving my daughter that name.
Fortunately, today the name “Rebekah” does not carry such meanings (I have to be careful because I have a sister-in-law who bears that name). But the dual nature of the biblical character’s name speaks a lot about the dual nature of her life. Though she began as a charming young woman who could “tie men up” with her kindness and beauty, she ended up as a deceitful noose, showing favoritism to one of her two twins, lying to her husband and encouraging her favorite son to trick his brother out of the benefits of being firstborn. She could have chosen to fulfill her name either way, as a precious young calf, or as an ugly cow. She chose both. (see P.S. below)
We, as Christians, find ourselves in a similar situation. The name “Christian” literally means “Christ-follower,” and denotes all the faithfulness, sacrifice, and devotion that should accompany such a life. But, to the popular culture, “Christian” has taken on other meanings: judgmental, hypocritical, narrow-minded, etc.
So, we find ourselves at a crossroads, like Rebekah. It is not enough to live up to our name. We must live up to what our name is supposed to mean. We must become true Christians. We must become “Christ-followers.”
P.S. – to be fair to Rebekah, the incident where she lied and deceived is the only negative, sinful story that the Bible records about her. It could have been an anomaly, and is no worse than the lying, deceit, lust, addiction, pride, or greed we have all been guilty of on occasion.