But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
I have spent many hours mulling over in my head how to pull together the random thoughts floating through my head about my name. You see, I had this great idea based on what I was told my name meant. Then...oh, then I did the unthinkable and went to Google to get more details. Wretched Google with it's balloon bursting intricacies that more fully explain that perhaps your parents glamorized or romanticized what your name means.
Rakhi. Growing up, my parents told me my name meant "gift of love." I presume you can imagine what growing up with a highly-unusual-in-this-country, ethnic name that phonetically sounds a lot like the name of a famous boxer and mountain range might be like. Let me tell you anyway. Kids can be cruel. When you are one of the few non-white, non-"normal" kids in the class, kids can be cruel, despite well meaning teachers and parents. It wasn't the brown skin that got to me. Truth be told, even to this day I sometimes forget I'm not white. That's a story for another day.
It was the name. The name was the source of many-a-tear for me. Rakhi. Rocky. Yo, Adrian! Did your parents think you were a boy? You look like a boy. What, are you super strong or something? Are you gonna beat me up? Yeah, some kids are cruel and just dumb. (I won't go into the highly inappropriate pick-up lines I was on the receiving end of in college.)
In the midst of such teasing, I must have asked my parents why they gave me such a hideous name. Of course to them it was hardly hideous. It's apparently not such an unusual name in India, after all. It was related to a nickname my father had "Rakhal" whose meaning I don't actually know at this time. One thing about names in my family - not one person went by their legal name. Until Facebook, I had no idea what most of my cousins' actual names were. So while my dad's name was Ganen, much of his family called him Rakhal. Enter the name suggestion from his side of the family in India - Rakhi.
This could have been an entirely different story if my mom had gotten her way back in California in the 70s. No, they weren't flower children, so no Apple or Rosepetal. Michelle. My mom wanted to name me Michelle. Sometimes I dream of what it might have been like to have a common name, to blend into the roll call of children at homeroom. There is an eerie calm that comes over me, but then I quickly snap out of it to realize that just in that one small detail, I would be someone completely different.
You see, I am a big believer in the idea that names are meaningful and carry weight. Identities are formed in names. God allowed man to name all the creatures and to this day we identify them by their names. Names bring to mind images and defining characteristics. Now, that isn't to say that one's destiny lies in one's name. I'm not making that leap. Nevertheless, I believe names are important. We took great care in praying over our children's names before settling on them.
Back to Rakhi. What does it actually mean? While it could be interpreted as a "gift of love," what I found after my foray into Google is that it actually means a "bond of protection." The "rakhi" is a string bracelet that is exchanged as a bond of fraternal love/protection between siblings. While I had to mull this all over for a while, I realized that it simply added greater depth to what I already believed about my name.
I have always believed that I was born out of great love, and as such, born to share great love. Sure, there was always the pursuit of the great romantic love. When I would come out of that fog, though, there was deeper within a desire to pursue something that would do more, be more for others. Whether a doctor (because what Indian kid isn't meant to be a doctor, after all?) or a lawyer, or a politician, or eventually in education and ministry, I had an inner desire to fight for the other.
It wasn't until more recently that I could give a voice to that desire - a desire for every living thing to know how greatly they are loved, their worth, their dignity - to know they belong to God and He to them.
With a name like Rakhi in a small Iowa town, knowing its meaning...or an interpretation of it...gave me some consolation. A gift of love is what I was told, and a gift of love was all I wanted to be, and to receive. To belong somewhere, to someone other than my parents, to not be on the outside, to know that great love. All that desire lay in my heart, growing more torturous as the years progressed into adolescence. Love created longing.
That's all for this edition. Shakespeare I am not, but if you want to continue reading, I'll be back with another installment!