What’s your name?

It’s the first question we ask someone: at social gatherings, business functions or a Bar Mitzvah parties. In every country. In every language. It’s essentially the same thing. What’s your name?

It’s such a simple question to ask. 

However, it’s the hardest question you will be asked, and an even harder question to answer. 

Sure, you can tell yourself your name is that string of letters you write every time you sign a check.  First name. Middle name. Last name. Of course I know my name!

Although this is a part of your name, is it really your name?

What about when you get married? Is your name the new name, the old name, the hyphenated name? What happens when you get divorced? Are you taking back your name? Did you ever really leave it or lose it? If you did, who have you been all these years without, and who will you be now that you’ve found it, or it’s found you?  

What about if you hate your name? After all, at least right out of the gate, it wasn’t you who chose your name. How much of who we are and what we’ve become has been of our choosing? For most of us, it certainly wasn’t our name.

And what if you changed your name? Are you no longer your old name? Are you really your new name? I can tell you first hand that a name change is hardly a change of names. Instead of clarity in who you are, in many ways it just doubles the question, the doubts and the confusion. Two names. Two Questions. Twice the answers now to figure out!  

What about the nicknames? The ones we like. The ones we don’t. What about when you have ten nicknames. Are you all of them. Are you none of them. And how come we never get to choose our own nickname? 

And what about the hell of having a name which no one can pronounce? Talk about identity issues. It’s an existential crisis every time you order at Starbucks (I tried going with an alias but forget to get my coffee every time they call my name). 

Those are just proper names. Now come the degrees, titles and professional names. 

Believe you me, for clergy, doctors, politicians and professionals, the distinction between title and name is a slippery slope. With certain titles it can be a fine line between who you are and what you do. How many Reverends and Rabbis and Doctors and Senators have slipped across that line – a potentially dangerous and destructive slip!

Beyond the appellations or titles, there’s a whole other set of names. 

How about those hateful names you are called for the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your religion, faith or creed?  

How about when your name is erased and replaced with a number tattoo’d onto your arm?

Auschwitz inmate 119104 spent three long years fighting against succumbing to this reductionism, dehumanization and degradation of being reduced to a number for a name. It’s not coincidental that from concentration camps to prisons, the first thing you do to imprison someone is take away their name.  For 119104 it was a brutal battle but he did it. He never became that number, always retained his name  – Viktor Frankl – because, he was a man who knew his name! In his words, “this is the last of human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way.”

To choose one’s own name!

Then there are the heaps and hurts of childhood names. Cruel name such as fatty and freak and freckle face – names that evoke shame a half century after they have been, and names never fully left behind. Which reminds me of that saying, “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me?” Complete bullshit made up by a motivational coach who clearly never knew bullying, torment and the shame of mean names. 

Sticks and stones can only break your bones. Words, however, can destroy you, and they often do!

After that comes the things we do, the way we behave, how we see ourselves or the manner in which we describe who we are. These too are our names.

Or name often begins in, “I am,” and ends with…

I am tall. I am short. I am depressed. I am too this. I am so that.

I am, I am, I am…. Perhaps the single most often used name, and certainly one of the oldest of names.

Remember Moses’ encounter with God?

What did this spiritually enlightened being ask the Creator of the universe? A spiritually unenlightened question, the same one you get asked cocktail parties thousands of years later. The simple, not so simple question, what’s your name?

Moses said to God, “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”   (Exodus. 3:13-15).

What was God’s response? 

Not, “I am God.” 

Not “I am the Lord.” 

Not the Creator, the Master of the Universe, the Source or the One. 

Not Ba’al or Buddha or Bill or Billy or Mac or Buddy. 

And God said to Moses, “I Am That I Am.

Bet Moses didn’t see that one coming!  But what did he expect? And what a perfect name.

I Am… no description, no depiction, no address in the atmosphere or a box in the beyond.

I Am… not  a noun.

I Am… not a place. 

I Am… not a peson.

I Am..  a verb. 

I am evolving, unfolding, becoming. 

I am label-less, limitless and unending light.

The moment you name me you tame me and I Am that I Am will not be tamed!

I Am is My Name. And that’s all I have to say about that!

And that’s all you can say about you.

You are in the image of I Am. 

You are the divine spark of I Am-ness.

Yes, you need to function in the world so you’ll use those letters, turn to those titles, and remember your profession is only your vocation, not who you are, but what you do. None of these are your names.

No, you do not need to get into existential endless debates at your next cocktail party when some cute onlooker asks you what’s your name. If you don’t you won’t get many dates and you won’t have any friends.

Just remember the next time you begin to utter those idolatrous words,”I Am Fill-In-The-Blank,” that, in the words of Søren Kierkegaard, “once you label me you negate me.” Don’t negate yourself. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t label yourself. Sure, use names, but don’t be used by those names. And always remember that you are not a name. You are names. Many names, beyond names, no names, and The Name.

You are you. You are limitless, infinite, radiant and glorious – can’t be negated, won’t be underrated, will never be named and should never be tamed.

That, my brother or sister, is the truth about your name!


May you have the courage and commitment to search for, discover and own your name.  If you would like to explore what this means or how to do this work of uncovering, discovering, releasing and reclaiming your name – this is the work I do with clients and would love to talk with you.  Feel free to email me at RabbiB@mysoulcentered.org