Just What Exactly Is in a Name?

My name is Jeffrey Mark Campbell.
There was a time in my teens that I kind of loved the idea that my first name means “Divinely Peaceful.” I was a member of maybe the original retro generation, that time in the 80’s when the 60’s seemed like they were going to come back from the dead. So I spent some years in tie dye, long haired, listening to the last album recorded by The Grateful Dead.
As I got older, I thought about how my middle name is derived of Mars, the God of War. I never tried to embrace this meaning by itself. But I saw that my hippie self (like most hippies) lived in this fairy tale that denied shadow and anger.
To this day, I think I’m a pretty paradoxical guy; possessed of an unflappable optimism and a dark cynicism, holy enough to fast and profane enough to watch South Park, idealist enough to hope the Green Party is right, realist enough to stop throwing my vote away; I fancy myself both a romantic and an intellectual and… this is just going to get irritating, I suspect, if I keep going. You see am also rather full of myself and also blindingly insecure.

It’s not the case that I discovered what my name means, and then I sought to live this out. It is probably partial coincidence, and partially that I am seeing who I am through the lenses of what my first and middle name mean.
They are funny things, names.
Summer camps and street gangs and college fraternities and military groups and “primitive” tribes all assign people names specific to the group. The bible is full of stories about people who change their names to reflect their new outlook, stories about the importance of names in possession and exorcism, stories about the importance of the name of the one true God.
In just a few sounds, names are supposes to capture who we are right now, and who we want to be; they are meant to encapsulate the aspects of ourselves under our own control, and also the legacies we have inherited quite independent of our desires.
Consider the fact that our parents choose our first and middle names. That sometimes these are ruled by family tradition. And that regardless of what anybody wants, we are also given a surname, that last name. A reminder, perhaps that there we are the recpients of good and bad things that accumulate from all those who came before us.
I am bothered, some, at the idea that a women marries a man and her family name is most often just erased and replaced. It is as if whatever legacies, whatever curses and blessings she inherited from her forebears are wiped out entirely and replaced with the husbands.
I suppose, the whole idea, that we bare the name of our male ancestors is the flip side of this. There are countless women across countless generations whose actions impact who I am.
On a practical level, I don’t know how to fix this. And for the second blog post in a row, I have managed to babble on about things only tangentially related to what I wanted to say.
I am all written out for the night. But I think this will all pull together. Bare with me.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

3 thoughts on “Just What Exactly Is in a Name?”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Quite the coincidence that I am preparing a lecture on the first four chapters of Exodus, and I plan to spend a few minutes on the power of naming. Seems you often are on the same track as I am, just as that first post of yours I discovered when Jacob was wrestling with God.

    Thanks for the insight here, it helps, and I will cite your blog when I discuss it in class (won’t be until September)



    1. Thanks Alexis! Glad we’re on the same page. I would love to read your thoughts on Exodus if you end up posting them.


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