There is many a resource that will tell you names are no small thing. Some will say we become our name, so it’s important for parents to name their children something hopeful, like Jane ("God is gracious") or Jesus (aka Joshua, "Jehovah saves") or, well, Hope!
Another reason that one’s name is important is that it gives one a spiritual and psychological anchor for the self. Just about everything we have (and maybe even are) can be taken away, but if we can hold onto our name, we’ll make it through.
In the Bible, names are huge. There’s that infamous (and, through the comic lens, funny) scene between Moses and YHWH where the former tries to figure out, in “Who’s on First” fashion, what the name of the latter (who keeps claiming to be “I Am Who I Am”) actually is.
There’s my favorite infamous (and most absolutely humor-full) scene in Genesis 21 where Sarah names her child Isaac (meaning “laughter”) because her childbearing adventure at age 100 has been hilarious!
There are the many funny names of the supposedly capable but actually totally dopey Persian courtiers serving King Ahasuerus (whose name means, appropriately, Prince). in the book of Esther. On Humor and the Comic in the Old Testament contributor Yahudda T. Raddaysays characters named "Mehuman," "Biztha," "Harbona" and "Bigtha" suggest, in Hebrew, meanings such as "panic," "plunder," "drought" and "leaker." The names of others mentioned in Esther’s festive story are just fun to say: “Shaashgaz", "Memucan" and “Parshandatha.” For starters.
There is another, I important, infamous, and I guess funny (I guess) naming in the BIble.
I’m talking about the names the prophet Hosea gives to his children. In the biblical book that bears his name.
Hosea’s first-born child he names Jezreel (1:4). This means “God sows” and was also the name of the valley in Israel where much much blood had been spilt in unnecessary battles by Israel’s kings.
His second-born, a daughter, he names Lo-ruhama (1:6). This means “not loved.”
His third-born, another son, is named Lo-ammi, or “not my people.” (1:8)
These are not happy, funny names. Even though they’re born from a woman named Gomer.
Hosea's intention here - actually, the Bible makes sure we know it's really God’s intention - is ironic and satiric. These names are to send a most ominous message to the people of Israel about how desolate and depressing their imminent future was to be. Naming his son Jezreel informed Israel (aka the "Northern Kingdom"), because of its infighting and political bloodletting, would soon fall. Lo-ruhama communicated that not only would Israel fall, but God no longer cared. And Lo-ammi conveyed the nightmarish news that worst of all, God was about to turn His back completely. Total devastating rejection. Nice. And there you have it. One of God’s most faithful families!
Clearly what Hosea does in bestowing the most dismal of names to his children is mock the nice, happy custom of naming. The prophet is showing just how far from shiny happy normalcy the nation has fallen away. From a distance, Hosea's children's names do engender a knowing, appreciative smile because their outrageousness is very clever, very powerful, very smart.
But still…can you imagine? Using your kids in this way? Subjecting them to ridicule and ostracization because their names are such an intentional horror? How must that affect the children's psychological development? In addition to finding out their main purpose in life is to serve as God's sandwich board of angry doom? Who'd ever ask to do that? Or would? But the kids have no choice in the matter; it’s what you get for having a prophet as a father.
This behavior of Hosea, even if supposed to be ridiculous, hits modern ears as wholly objectionable. The satire here is so harsh, unfeeling and even psychologically dangerous.
But, from the cultural - and comic - lens, there are a few things I think we can and need to pull from this text’s threads.
One, Hosea's action is a testament to the “community-think” nature of ancient society. Naming the children God’s damnations is a way the family/tribe as a whole expresses God’s favor upon them and honors God and God’s intention of speaking through all of them to the greater nation of Israel.
One-point-five, this is also a testament to Jesus’ stunning statement that children are to be recognized and honored as most-valuable portals into the Kingdom of God. Previously they were considered, as they are in Hosea, as mere extensions of the father’s agenda.
Two, it shows us the length that Israel’s universally celebrated Great Prophets would go to speak God’s painful but necessary truth. They would do some pretty nutty things! Ezekiel laid on his left side for 396 days and then right side for 40 days to demonstrate how many years (each day represents a year) Israel and Judah, respectively, would be punished for its faithlessness. Jeremiah locked himself into an oxen yoke to tell Israel and several other countries they would soon be subjected by Babylon. Those are weird and dark but they're not perhaps as grotesque as messing with chlldren's names and everything that entails. All of this and more characterizes the outrageousness and intensity of our Great Prophets' behavior.
Three, Hosea adds an interesting dimension, I think, to the current conversation about how far satirists can and should go when critiquing and condemning the current state of affairs.
As we share opinions about what Kathy Griffin, Stephen Colbert, or even Saturday Night Live should or should not do — what is just too tasteless, too mean, too cruel for the children of parodied parties to have to endure — we have perhaps an ultimate example of arguable tastelessness and over-the-top personal satiric cruelty, and it’s in our Bible! Proudly plopped into our source of Divine, God-ordained inspiration!
What to make of that?
I’ll leave it up to you to think about and wrestle with especially as you sit around your family’s dinner table this Father’s Day….