Reflections on Name Change

Reflections on Name Change

May 29, 2007

On Friday, May 18, we announced a name change for NABS, a change that was probably overdue.  "North American" points to a rather large continent, thus not clarifying where the school is.  "North American Baptist" bears a proud tradition, but it is a small, conservative conference of 75,000 people scattered across the U.S. and Canada that not too many people know.

"Sioux Falls Seminary: A North American Baptist Seminary" pinpoints our regional presence while at the same time connecting to our heritage.  When people would refer to coming to the school they would say, "I'm going to the seminary in Sioux Falls."  It feels like a logical move.  After all, we have been in Sioux Falls since 1949.  The city has grown to 145,000.  The Chamber of Commerce projects a growth to 340,000 by 2025.  And the research that led to this projection came before the $400 million gift to Sanford Health announced this last spring.  When other city-named seminaries took on their names, their locales were not that large either (Dallas Seminary, Denver Seminary, for example).

So far the reaction has been mostly favorable.  One thing it has led me to do is to reflect on the biblical precedence for "name change."  Of course, I would not equate our change to the status of biblical names, but on the other hand, it seems that there may be parallels.

Abram received a name change from God in Genesis 17.  The change sealed the covenant God was repeating to Abraham.  A few years down the timeline and Jacob wrestled with a man by the brook Jabbok who pronounced a name change for the "striver," the name "Israel" (Gen. 32).  His new name described his life's struggles up to that time for he had striven with God and humanity (Gen. 32:28).  Obviously the biblical names carried significance; they helped describe the person.

Moses would ask God at the bush about God's name, if the Israelites would ask (Ex. 3).  "I am who I am," God answers.  Implied in his question is the viewpoint common in the ancient Near East that a name carried power, especially a deity's name.  The answer also provides significance because what God says in the enigmatic answer points in the verses that follow to a god who acts and will act in behalf of Israel.  The divine personal name, Yhwh (perhaps pronounced Yahweh), puts the revelation in the third person.

Other biblical characters, less known than the patriarchs, also received name changes.  Some scholars believe that most kings were crowned with a throne name when ascending to office.  David was the king of war, so his son is called Solomon, king of peace (a theme in 1 Chron. 28).  When born he was called "Jedidiah," "Beloved of the Lord" (2 Sam. 12:25).  Evidently his name changed when he co-reigned with his father.  Even David's name may be a term of endearment that came with his leadership since it does not seem to be a pure name.  It means simply, "Beloved."

In the New Testament, two names change dramatically: Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul.  Peter's change demonstrates the role he would play in the early church.  Saul's name change marks a new day for him, although both names may mean something similar in two languages, namely "Little."

All this to say that our name change also carries significance.  We serve a wide constituency from the "hub" of Sioux Falls.  May we better serve our mission, to equip servant leaders for the ministries of Christ, from this hub, Sioux Falls Seminary!