If there is one thing I’ve learned being in a new country, it is the rush of joy and relief when you hear someone call you by your name. I recently read Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, which I cannot recommend highly enough, and I especially love the way he discusses names. Boyle asks, “Who doesn’t want to be called by name, known?” He explains, “As misshapen as we feel ourselves to be, attention from another reminds us of our true shape in God.” I couldn’t agree with Boyle more on this point. Hearing someone call your name does more than get your attention- it helps you feel known and accepted.

Soon after my birth, I was given a name. Abigail. My parents love to tell people that they were rushing to the hospital for my birth and still hadn’t chosen a name, so they opened up the Baby Names Book and there it was- the first name in the book! Abigail. Easy enough, name chosen.

After people chuckle at this explanation, my mom will usually relent and tell them the “real reason.” They loved the name Abigail, and it means “Bringer of Joy.” On nearly every birthday card or letter from my mom that I have ever received, she reminds me that my name means I should bring joy, and that I do bring her joy.

I love that Abigail has a wonderful meaning, but the name that feels more like mine is Abby. I have gone by Abby almost my entire life, and I identify strongly with Abby.

Throughout my life, I have had a handful of other nicknames. Some are specific to people- my sister always calls me “Ab.” Then there are the quirky nicknames I’ve accumulated, the ones that require much more explanation. They don’t always make sense, but when I hear someone call me “Schmabby” or “Henderchat” I feel known, loved, and accepted.

 

On my recent travels through South Africa, I was given new names.  One of the most beautiful things about many South African cultures is that names actually have meanings, and people care about what their name means. Also, most people have a traditional name and an “English” name. So, upon meeting people while traveling, they would ask me for my English name and my other name.

When this first happened in the small village of Lekubu where my dear friend and fellow YAGM Keenan lives, they were disappointed that I did not yet have a Tswana name. So they gave me one: Mmapula, which means “Woman of Rain.” I love the way it sounds, the way it rolls off the tongue, and the fact that they mostly gave me that name to tease Keenan, whose Tswana name is Rapula, or “Man of Rain.” (It is also fitting considering that in every place I visited during my travels, it rained. Literally.)

Nearly two weeks later in a small village outside of Estcourt, I was spending time with fellow YAGM Hannah and her community. They decided that an English name wasn’t enough- I also needed a Zulu name. So they gave me one: Noguthula, which means “Peaceful Woman.” I also love the name Noguthula, and I adore the meaning behind it.

Throughout my travels, I responded to all sorts of names. Now, when I hear any of my given or created names, I feel a sense of being known and loved.

 

Being called by name- it’s a beautiful thing. In Isaiah 43, the Lord says, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” That verse is one of my favorites. I imagine my higher power addressing me, and I hear so much more than “Abigail.” I hear the Lord calling me, saying “Abby, Noguthula, Mmapula, Schmabby, Henderchat… you are mine.” I am the Lord’s, I have been called by name. Boyle puts it beautifully: “We all just want to be called by the name our mom uses when she’s not pissed off at us.” I want to be called by my mom and my Heavenly Mother, and I am so blessed that I now have more names for them both to use.

With love,

Abigail Noguthula Mmapula Henderson

A Peaceful Bringer of Joy and Rain

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