What's In A Name? A Post for Parents and "No Name Calling Week"

This post is for parents of school-aged children and grown men who are still telling "Yo mama" jokes.

January 18-22, 2016, according to Psychology Today, is "No Name Calling Week." I'm not sure who has the privilege of deciding such a thing, but in this new year I hope to write on some of these otherwise arbitrary topics in order to make connections between them and life-giving biblical truth.

Positively, I appreciate that those on the secular side of mental health counseling have a concern for things which bring emotional (i.e. spiritual) hurt into the lives of others. In our day and in our schools especially, the topic of "bullying" has become a hot-button item. I suspect "No Name Calling Week" is somehow connected to this wider issue, and rightfully so, I would argue.

High profile cases, influenced by the advent of social media and involving tragic circumstances have occurred across our nation. In response, many school districts have enacted stiff policies to combat a thing which was once considered a part of growing up. "Kids will be kids---let them sort it out," we used to say.

But one too many suicides committed by young people who were subjected to intense bullying and name-calling changed all that. To be sure, there is a discussion to be had with young people about the level at which they covet the praise of their peers (Paul Washer speaks powerfully about this HERE). Even so, that discussion does not negate the destructiveness of repeated and ongoing shunning by a young person's natural community (or anyone's for that matter).

Indeed, there are good and profound reasons for the apostle Paul's admonition, "No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29; emphasis mine). Did you catch Paul's stated purpose for the command? Christian speech is intended by God to be a conduit of grace.

What fellowship then does the darkness of name-calling have with those who walk in the light of Christ (2 Cor. 6:14)?

The Limitations of No Name-Calling Week

Our friends at Psychology Today, I believe, have helped us by calling attention to a matter that on the surface seems a bit over-blown. After all, if you're like me, somewhere along the way in your childhood somebody picked on you---and you survived. But, your survival (and mine) doesn't justify the sin. If anything, it's evidence of God's grace in our lives.

For others, like those I sometimes meet with in counseling who were berated and torn down for years in childhood by the words of an angry father, the reverberations of the past have left an indelible mark on the soul. For them, "Sticks and stones break bones---and words hurt terribly."

What is it then about this name-calling that so deeply touches the hearts of many? Perhaps there's more to a name than we'd like to admit. In Scripture, and even in non-Christian cultures throughout the world, the name a person is given at birth has great meaning. Names speak to the perceived character and hope-for attributes of the child. Consider also the power we're intended to perceive in the names of God we encounter in the pages of the Old Testament, in particular.

Further, even the act of assigning a name to a person communicates privilege, power, and authority. Generally speaking, this is an honor extended by God to the parents of children. When parents give a child a name, they can only hope that their little one will indeed grow up into the name they've selected and all that it represents. In this way, there is in fact quite a bit wrapped up into this special act that seems so perfunctory in our modern day culture.

All of this speaks to the profundity of the type of name-calling that's in view with "No Name-Calling Week." When we, with malice aforethought, name call another with the intention of harming them and putting them down, we actually usurp the authority God vested in their parents and take it upon ourselves to assign moral character and personal attributes to a person over whom we hold no meaningful authority.

In this and many other ways, name-calling is a deeply theological topic and not one that should be casually dismissed. The challenge for parents and all who hold a biblical worldview is to make these connections for our children and even our peers who don't yet understand why name calling matters at all.

Yes, the intent of "No Name Calling Week" is good so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. Like much of secular counseling, it attempts to remove or modify the behavior without supplying a sufficient or proper counter motivation of the heart.

What then should we do?

Affirming the Imago Dei

If name-calling has anything at all to do with seeking to assign value, character, and attributes to a person (even if sinfully), then we must remind ourselves and certainly our children that the one thing that connects all men to one another is the same thing that makes man unique from all creation: the Image of God (Latin: Imago Dei). Scripture teaches us that when God created man, He created him in His very image (Gen. 1:26-27).

Among other things, this means that all men are created with an inherent value that no other human can remove or has the right or authority to diminish. And this is precisely what we (or our children) do when we engage in sinful name-calling. It is, in fact, an assault on the God-given personhood and value of the other party. We may even rightly consider that to sinfully name-call is to impugn the very work of God who alone is holy, perfect, and just in all that He does.

Here is where we as parents must take this dialogue of "No Name Calling Week" as we teach our children (and ourselves) to love God and love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). While we are right to hold our kids and one another accountable to confess and repent of sinful behavior, we must disciple them into an understanding of why we would choose not to name-call, but instead build others up in love and grace.

These are the things of Scripture with which the world is unfamiliar. As we encounter it seeking to bring order into a disordered world (and for that we can be thankful), we have the duty and privilege of adding biblical truth to the conversation. And the truth we bring is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is itself a river of living water (John 7:38).

In light of this conversation, perhaps we might speak with our children about "No Name Calling Week," and go a biblical step further, and call our children to adopt a spirit which affirms the Imago Dei in everyone they meet.

Join the Conversation

1. How have you been tempted to sinfully name call another?

2. How will you speak to your children about "No Name Calling Week" so that they learn to not only avoid the sinful behavior, but affirm the Image of God found in their neighbor?