Each year thousands of people legally change their names. In fact, 2011 was a record year for the practice in the UK with 58,000 Britons adopting a new moniker. Many of these changes are not unusual: a new wife relinquishes her maiden name, a couple combine and hyphenate their surnames, an immigrant anglicises his first name, a ‘Robin Hood’ or ‘Sarah Lee’ wants respite from the jokes. But other changes reflect a deep desire for a new start.
Change Your Name and Change Your Life
‘I changed my name and it changed me,’ writes singer Alina Simone regarding her own change of identity. ‘When I think back to my old self, I think of an entirely different person, not altogether likable,’ she reflects. That old person, Alina Vilenkin, was put aside following a visit to a Deed Poll office. ‘I had no reputation, no history of unmet expectations, nothing to lose,’ she says of her new identity. Alina Simone started singing. She formed a band. She got on with her life. ‘I poured my best self into my new name.’
A visitor to one of Alina’s gigs liked Alina’s name so much she decided to take it too! For this woman, a failed marriage had left her wondering who she was. Changing her name gave her a ‘new birthday’ – a new start, an opportunity to be reborn.
For thousands of people life is clearly not working. They don’t like the person they’ve become. They want to be released from their past. A name change offers salvation.
One wonders, however, how much the past can truly be erased by such a strategy. We walk out of the Deed Poll office with the same DNA, the same medical history, the same resume, the same relatives. The ex-husband will still be part of the story, especially if children are involved. ‘[W]henever someone changes her name, a body gets stuffed in the closet,’ Alina admits. And dead bodies can fester.
A New Earth. A New You
Still, Alina Simone and others are onto something. A change of name can mark a significant change in one’s life. I think of Jesus giving his friend Simon a new name – Peter. Or the pharisee Saul becoming the apostle Paul. In both cases a change of life mission was involved. They were on a new life path.
But there is one fundamental difference in these scenarios to a Deed Poll identity change. Both Peter and Paul – irrespective of their name change – experienced a personal transformation so deep it could only be called a rebirth of the highest order. Saul had been a murderer. Simon had been a coward. Paul became history’s finest missionary, waxing lyrical about divine love. Peter ended up being crucified for his brave following of the Christ.
It wasn’t just their names that had changed, but their souls. And this came not from their own self-reinvention efforts, but through a divine encounter.
This is the exciting promise of the New Testament. God is creating a new earth. God will create a new you. Beginning now. I try to sketch this out in a poetic way in Unseen Footprints.
God has a dream for a new earth, typically called heaven (which I call the ‘Kingdom of Light’ in the book), which once complete will be grand indeed:
In the Kingdom of Light the seeking heart finds its home. The unseen footprints have led to its city steps and not even death has stopped our entering in…
The Kingdom of Light is a place of plenty. None hoard and none go without. None shiver and all have homes. There is ownership of possessions but no materialism, enjoyment of goods but no consumerism, individuality without narcissism…
Work is meaningful in the Kingdom of Light. Each job has significance, each task its special place. Effort is satisfying, exertion rewarding, sleep is deep. Each member contributes according to their God-given design…
The Kingdom is whole. Its environment is whole. The people are whole. Their relationships are whole. Scars of mind are healed, wounds of body are made right…
And the King… well, words fail to describe him. He shines brighter than the sun. His radiance lights the entire land… [T]hey finally see his face. It is a strong face. Kind. He smiles. And the King’s first words to them are never forgotten…
And God has a dream for a new you:
God dreams that we become all he designed us to be, with all our individual flair and talent realised. But he wants even more for us. He dreams of us embodying the luminous character of Christ, “our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”
This is why that last exercise in this series was so important. Not only does an investigation of Jesus’ life and character show us what God is like, it shows us what we can be like – what God wants us to become. Indeed, what God will start shaping us into upon our inviting him into our lives. He will make us like Jesus.
And in a nice twist to the story, we’re told that when the new earth is complete – when God brings heaven about – we will be given a little white stone with a new name on it, personalised for each of us.
A new earth. A new you. A new name. A new start.
The old you transformed, rather than stuffed in the closet.
In the Podcast
To hear how God transformed Stephen Lungu from terrorist to peace activist, listen to this 14 minute podcast below, or right-click here and ‘save target’ to download. The Unseen Footprints podcast is also available on iTunes.
Question: Have you ever wanted to start again? What did you do? Share your comment now.