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As we stood in awe of the authority standing before us, he looked each of us over and began to pronounce our American names.

Principal Pettinga lined us up on the day my siblings and I were registered for school. My parents trusted him because he could speak Dutch. As we stood in awe of the authority standing before us, he looked each of us over and began to pronounce our American names. 

The oldest, Klaas, became Nicholas because the last part sounded like Klaas. He was subsequently called Nick. 

Next came Jelle, who was dubbed Jerry. When Jerry went into the army he was still legally “Jelle.” In boot camp, the sergeant delighted in calling out “JELLY” at each roll call. Humiliation set in, but later laughter. 

When it was Gerard’s turn, happily no change was necessary, but his friends later called him Gerry too. So whenever a phone call came asking for Gerry/Jerry, we would ask, “Which one?” Incredulously, the caller would ask, “How many do you have?” Explanation and laughter.  

Next was me: Akke became Agnes. How? Why? No connection whatsoever, but it stuck, and I have endured it ever since. Why didn’t I change it at some point? I tried, but it stuck like Gorilla Glue: scrape as you might, it won’t come loose. I tried my middle name, Katherine, but alas, no glue.  

Next, Alfred. His name is also the same in both languages. He was named after his paternal grandmother, Aafke, so his siblings would tease and call him Aafke a lot. 

The final child, still an infant then, was and still is Cornelius. Same in both languages, and nothing to be embarrassed about.

What’s in a name? Something very important, it seems. When Dr. Frankenstein is forced to confront his creature, the main issue is its name. Frankenstein never named him, and the creature berates its maker by reminding him that even God named his creations, Adam and Eve. Without a name, it has no identity. It exists but does not exist. 

Names are so important that God sometimes gave special names with special meanings to those designated for special tasks: Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Jacob became Israel. Names matter. God’s name was so sacred that the Israelites feared to say it. John the Baptist was named by God. Jesus was named by his Father, Saul became Paul, and Simon became Peter.

Names are so important that Jesus said in Luke 10:20, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” That makes me wonder: What names would those be? Akke? Agnes? Jelle? Jerry? I believe God has a name for each of us that far exceeds any name we carry on this earth—a name worthy of the price Jesus paid to make it reflect the glory to come. If God names you, you are named indeed.  

Mr. Pettinga long ago received his new name. I hope he likes it better than the names he gave us.


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