You Are Known By Name

Woman looking over a lake
Photo credit: Ben Waardenburg

Thursday August 16th was a special day for me. After four years doing the 5.45am slot, the kind producers of BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought segment gave me a shot at the big kids show—The Chris Evans Breakfast Show. That meant a few extra listeners (from 2 million to 12 million or so), but more importantly, no more 3.30am alarm. It was a fun spot to do, and it looks like I’ll be joining Chris more regularly (including this Thursday, 9.20am – listen in then bombard Radio 2 with fan mail!).

I took the opportunity to ask Chris’s forgiveness ahead of time. You see, I have an embarrassing habit of forgetting people’s names, even of people I’ve known for years, and one day I may well call Chris something else. Since names are more than mere words, this is a weakness I wish I could beat. But it’s a weakness that at least points to a greater truth – there is a much greater Someone who knows you by name. 

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I’ll Apologise Now

Chris, let me apologise now. At some point in the future I may well call you by another name. When I first met your Radio 2 colleague Sara Cox, I spent the whole conversation calling her Jo. (I have a friend named Jo Cox—you can see what my brain did.)

This brain-freeze on names happens regularly and has led to great embarrassment. Years ago, walking down the road with my girlfriend, I bumped into an old schoolmate. I said, “Steve! Please meet my girlfriend—this is… this is…” But I couldn’t remember her name!

I have faced some justice, though. I once rented a flat from an Italian man who got my name wrong on rent receipts, calling me ‘Stefan Wysley’ one week and ‘Sheldon Voyeur’ the next. Then there was the colleague who couldn’t stop calling me Eugene.

Names are more than mere words. To me, they’re suitcases holding the essence of our identity—stuffed full of the memories and experiences that make us who we are. So it can be jarring to have our names mistaken, forgotten, or never used. It can suggest we aren’t really known.

Known By Another

Man looking up in a forest

Photo credit: Luke Ellis-Craven

I’m struck by two stories in the Christian scriptures. In one, Jesus meets a guy named Nathanael, about whom he reveals all sorts of unlearned details. Having never met before, Nathanael says in astonishment, “How do you know me?” In the other story, Jesus calls a con-man named Zacchaeus out of the crowd by name. It’s an event that starts Zacchaeus’ life being turned around.

For me, these aren’t just nice stories; they’re stories of God walking on earth. And they lead me to believe that even in our loneliest moments there is Someone who still knows us—every atom, molecule, and nanosecond of our existence; every success, loss, failure, dream—Someone who knows us intimately and calls us by name.

I believe that’s good news for everyone, not least those whose names I mess up.

Sorry again, Ken, but that could well next be you.

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