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  • Writer's pictureSam Alvis

What’s In a Name?: Why the Words We Use For Ourselves (And Others) Matter.

Sorry Shakespeare, but it turns out that there happens to be a lot of significance in a name. (If your mind is coming up empty as to what I am referencing, try to reach back into the recesses of your brain to the folder labeled “High School English” and under the file “Romeo and Juliet”).


As the daughter of a late English teacher and a word-nerd myself, I am fascinated by words and the names given to people, places, and things. Case in point: I taught myself Spanish in late elementary and middle school by looking up the lyrics to songs and translating them one by one. I thought I wanted to be a linguist. To this day, my husband looks at me both perplexed and impressed when I rattle off the origin of a word, as well as how to pronounce it in at least four other languages.


For someone who loves words so much, it is noteworthy how little thought I used to give to the words I use to name and describe myself.


I never really intentionally thought about how I talked to myself. I assumed everyone called themselves names in their own head (or out loud) and that it was perfectly normal to use words like “stupid” and “worthless” and “unloveable” to describe oneself. Oh, what a telling warning sign that was to the shame I operated in and out of.


One of the most telling questions I have on my client intake form asks incoming clients to “describe themselves in 3-5 words.” The words and descriptions provided (un)intentionally expose how these individuals view themselves and how they believe others view them as well.


For example, if I were to have answered this question at the beginning of my own healing journey, at a time where I lived consistently out of a space of shame, self-loathing and brokenness (to be clear: I still have moments like this, but I no longer live out of these spaces 24/7), I would probably have answered the question something like this:


“I am…”

-Burdensome

-Ugly

-A Doormat

-Sinful

-Too Sensitive


Now this is not a ploy for sympathy or pity, but rather a realistic look into the words and names I spoke over myself over and over again: think about those words. Think about their definitions, their connotations, their meanings.


...not necessarily “positive” vibes, you know what I’m saying?


Now think about the implications of repeating those words throughout days, weeks, months, years, and decades over myself. Can you imagine the impact of telling yourself (or being told) that you are those things?


One of the insidious things about the words and names we tell ourselves (or have been told about ourselves) is how quickly we can create an identity around them.


“I am the ugly one.”

“I am (only) a sinner.”

“I am worthless.”

“I am ______.”


We adopt these words of shame as a replacement for our true names and identities. We become so entangled and enmeshed with these descriptions and words that we lose sight of the fact that there might be more to who we are than these words could capture.


Now, now: no need to fret. I’m not about to spend the next few paragraphs telling you to just “think differently about yourself” and to replace your false words and names with true ones (although I will advocate below about the power of the words we use to describe ourselves and others).


Rather, I want to offer you the hope that regardless of what words you historically or currently use to name yourself, there is One who knows your name. And He calls you…


Beloved.” (Deuteronomy 33:12)

Redeemed.” (Isaiah 43:1)

Friend.” (John 15:15)

My Loved One.” (Romans 9:25)


No name you give yourself can erase the truth of the Name you have been given by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. No matter how long or how far you have been beholden by other words and names, you can always return to your original name.


My hope for you (& myself included), is that you can peel off the layers and layers of lies and words that have been used for far too long to describe yourself and that you can unveil the true name you have been given.


You might be thinking, “This is great and everything, Sam- but how in the world do I begin to recover ‘my true name’?” Fair enough: let’s break it into more digestible bites to start with.


  • What words do you use to describe yourself?: Notice what words and names you call yourself throughout any given day, whether out loud or to yourself. Write them down. Looking at those words and names on paper can highlight what is often in the background of your mind.

  • Where and when did you first receive that name?: How old were you when you first were called or began to call yourself by that name/s? What was the context in which that lie was first told?

  • Is there any truth to those words and names?: The words we use to describe ourselves don’t just pop out of thin air, they often have context, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are true. Spend some time questioning the validity of the statement you hold so firmly to be true.

  • What words and names might someone who loves me well give me? What words and names does God give me?: It can often be helpful to think about how you would describe someone else you love dearly, maybe a friend, a child, or a beloved pet. My thoughts are that you probably wouldn’t talk to them in the way you talk to yourself internally.

  • What would it look like to shed and discard these old, worn-out words, descriptions, and identities?: Maybe it means spending time in prayer with you and the Lord. Perhaps it means getting together with a trusted friend, family member, or mentor to help process through these beliefs. Or perhaps it’s time for you to reach out to learn about the counseling process and to find someone to support you in understanding where you’ve come from and how to shift where you are headed.


If you feel as if processing some of these things in a counseling space would be your best next step, click here to schedule an initial free consultation with me to explore how I can walk with you in this journey of recovering your true name.

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