What's in a name?
Last Sunday I had the rare treat of watching the London Marathon.
This year we had a good friend running to support the ‘Outward Bound’ charity and the tracking dot on the race website updated us on his whereabouts. Finally, the little blue dot showed him ‘just on the other side of the bridge’. And we geared ourselves up(?) to cheer for him, shouting out his name and helping him through the last couple of cramp-filled miles.
While we waited, others ran past. There is advice on many charity websites which I know to be wise from my brother’s running exploits. ‘If you feel able, please include your name on the design of your t-shirt’. Some charities include the bespoke printing of names in the design of their kit. It probably feels a bit of an odd request when runners are filling in their form months before the race.
But as we stood behind the iron barriers on the day, the ‘name your T-shirt instruction’ suddenly made sense. As a runner slowed and stopped just down the road, grimacing through another shot of pain, the spectators could see their name on their t-shirt. It was ‘Matt’. There were shouts from the crowd ‘Come on Matt, you can do it.. looking strong, just 2 more miles’. And someone’s head lifts, Matt’s head lifts, because someone had expressed confidence in him, had called his name and told him he could do it. I saw the same reaction in runners so many times last week, enough times for it not to be a coincidence. A very small smile appeared on the runner’s face, recognition that you were cheering for them and helped them through/over the line. Calling someone by their name has a unique power. In the marathon, it clearly made a difference.
A similar experience occurs with our kids when we stop at a roadside shop. They race to the tat/novelty section and look at the rulers and other stuff personalised with names on them. Neither of our children have particularly popular names and it’s rare that we find anything printed with their name. When they do find something, it causes huge excitement. They feel validated, known somehow. Someone is recognising their existence by knowing and using their name.
One of my favourite Bible verses is the one where God says, ‘I have called you by name; you are mine!’ It suggests that in knowing a name there is an intimacy, a belonging. Reflecting on all of this, I wonder whether I listen for the times when other people call my name. Do I allow other people to name me, and when necessary, call me back to keep running, to keep being myself? And if I really genuinely care about other people, do I treat them as just ‘other runners in the crowd’? Or am I intentionally looking for other people’s names, helping them on and supporting them in holding on to their true selves?
photos by sportograf and Emma Lowe