Sermon by Rev’d Clive Thrower on 31st Dec. 2023 at St. Peter’s

So what’s in a name? When it comes to naming children, parents can agonise and argue over what to call their new-born child for weeks sometimes.  Many will look to family names, especially of those who are significant members such as parents or grandparents.  When John (later known as the Baptist) was named by the angel the first response was to declare that wasn’t a family name.  And in Matthew 1.21 we read “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  A name that is an example of a new term that entered the English language in 1994 – Nominative Determinism.   An article written in the New Scientist, part jokingly, had noted that correlation of people’s jobs with their names.  Indeed I learned that term only a couple of weeks ago on BBC’s Have I Got News for You when the presenter talking about the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, adding “so much for nominative determinism!”  A better example would be Sara Blizzard, who is a TV weather presenter.

My mum wanted to name me with a name that couldn’t be shortened or commonly substituted like Edwards often being called Ted, so she decided on Clive, a hero of the British Empire in Bengal in the mid 18th century.  I don’t think mum researched Clive of India, who it seems was a moody and quarrelsome individual who ended his life by committing suicide!

In the Bible are several namings – in Genesis 17-18 we read of God making a covenant with Abram (meaning exalted father) and renaming him Abraham (meaning father of a multitude). Which is what ensues for him.  Again in St. Matthew’s gospel chapter 16  Jesus renames Simon the bother of Andrew, making him Peter (Petros in Greek meaning rock) and declaring that on this rock he will build his church.

Shout out if you think you know the most popular boys name in the UK this year?  Mohammed  followed by Noah, Theo, Leo, Oliver, Arthur, George, Luca, Freddie and Jack round out the top of the list.  At least 4 of those have Biblical sources.  What do you think is the most popular girls name? Olivia followed by Sophia, Amelia, Isla, Lily, Ava, Freya, Ivy, Grace and Willow making up the rest of the top ten for girls.  I reckon just 2 of those are Biblical.

In Acts 11 after Barnabas brought Saul (Paul as he was later renamed) to Antioch where they taught the disciples for about a year, the text says that "the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch" (Acts 11:26).  In baptism we become adopted members of Jesus family and become Christian.  I urge you to remember your adopted name of Christian and live up to your name, put it on like a robe or cloak. In Isaiah 61.10 we read

“I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels”.  

A week ago I was chatting with my good friend Janet Foulds in Derby.  She was describing the awards ceremony for Derby University when she was given an honorary degree by the chancellor, Lord Burlington, for her life-time achievements in Social Work in particular at the Donnington air crash and the Hillsborough stadium disaster.  She said she felt different when robed in gown, hood and mortar board on her head.  Her comment reminded me of the first time I donned my clerical robes, it felt like I was a new person.  We might say, born again, words we find in the baptism order of service.  Remember and rejoice in being Christian, live up to your name.  Let Nominative Determinism be true of you too.


An alternative sermon on Names by Google Bard  (for comparison and comment on A I)

Brothers and sisters, we gather today in the shadow of names, those whispered syllables that bind us to stories, to destinies, to the very fabric of existence. From the first breath upon this earth, a name becomes our herald, announcing our arrival and carving our place in the tapestry of humankind.

Think, for a moment, of the power held within a name. Adam, the first, bearing the weight of creation. Eve, the mother, her essence woven into the tapestry of life. Abraham, the wanderer, his journey echoing in the generations that followed. Names are not mere labels, but vessels carrying legacies, prophecies, and the weight of expectation.

Some names speak of lineage, of bloodlines whispering through the ages. We carry the echoes of ancestors in our tongues, their triumphs and failures staining the tapestry of our own being. Other names, chosen with intent, whisper of hope, aspirations etched in syllables. A child named "Star" bears the burden of reaching for the heavens, while "Grace" dances with the promise of compassion.

Yet, names are not static. They bend and shift, like rivers carving their paths through time. We earn new names through our deeds, etching our own stories onto the canvas of life. The timid youth who becomes a fearless warrior might earn the name "Lionheart." The gentle hand that soothes suffering might be called "Mercy." Our actions become brushstrokes, moulding our own identities within the name we carry.

And what of those who reject the names given to them? The enslaved who rise above their chains, the outcast who forge their own paths? They, too, have the power to claim new names, whispers of defiance and redemption. Harriet Tubman, once "Minty", became the "Moses" of her people, leading them to freedom's promised land. Martin Luther King Jr., born into a world of segregation, became the "Dreamer", his name echoing with the yearning for justice and equality.

Brothers and sisters, the weight of a name is not to be taken lightly. It is a gift, a burden, a whispered prophecy. Let us honour the stories held within our own names, striving to live up to their legacies and imbuing them with meaning through our actions. Let us also remember that we are not bound by the names we receive, but empowered to claim new ones, etched in the fires of our own journeys.

May our names, whispered through time, become testaments to our courage, our compassion, and our unwavering hope. May they echo in the halls of eternity, not as mere labels, but as songs of lives well-lived, echoes of destiny fulfilled, and whispers of a brighter future yet to come.


Children welcome at St. Peter’s

For children who want to stay in the services we have developed bible story sacks with  a simply written bible story, puppets and dolls to illustrate it and activity sheets to take away.  These are available at the bookstall or ask a sidesperson. Parents/carers are encouraged to bring their children to the altar at communion time to receive a blessing.  We have also provided a basket of toys and books for young children with their parents/carers.