This week I spent a couple days off-the-grid in East Millinocket, Maine with Mike, my father-in-law (a retired truck driver who dabbles in used car sales). During one trip (to plain-old Millinocket) I saw a sign for an oil and propane supplier—one I'd never noticed before: Dead River Company. I told Mike that it seemed a regrettable choice for a business considering the environmental-catastrophe concerns people have with removing crude from Mother Earth. Especially after last year's Gulf disaster, it would appear that whether or not it originally made sense to name the forest products company in 1909 after a river that flowed through its land in western Maine,1 in 2011 it has to be a bit of a hurdle for Dead River's Marketing Department. Little did they know in 1936 when they expanded into petroleum products (anyone remember Esso?)2 that 75 years later some would consider them part the second most nefarious industry (only behind tobacco)…and that their name would be a constant reminder of the worst-case scenario for their trade.
However, the sub-optimal naming up in northeast Maine didn't stop there. Enjoying more of that beautiful area's flavor by reading the Katahdin Region News, I saw an ad for Rob's Oil Burner Service. Nothin' too bad about that; well, except that they put the initials above the company in bold capitals: R.O.B.S. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want someone coming into my home with R.O.B.S. on their uniform. 🙂
Yet, Dead River Company and R.O.B.S. only receive an honorable mention when it comes to the prize for unfortunate name selections. Once again it is a firm that is committed to keeping people warm (their advertisement reads, "Don't Shiver! We Deliver!")—it's an "oil company" owned by Tom Saucier, Ryan Osgood, and Nick Boobar. I suspect the three are good old boys because they decided to name their venture with the first letter of each of their last names (in the order listed). The ad in the paper did not give any idea of why they named it that way, I only discovered it from their Facebook page.3 Instead at the bottom of the "School News" section of the Katahdin Region News it had, in very, very big bold letters…
Well, you've already figured it out by now. 🙂
At this point you may be scratching your head as to why I've used up half of this article to give a few examples of injudicious naming choices. Although I have a suspicion that Saucier, Osgood, and Boobar knew exactly what they were doing, there is a chance that all three organizations didn't give a second thought to the implications of their monickers.
Now, as Christians we bear the name of someone else:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:16-17, English Standard Version, emphasis mine).
In bearing Christ's name, every word we say and every action we take reflects back on the One we claim to follow. When people hear or see us, how would they characterize our implicit portrayal of our Lord? Regrettable? Sub-optimal? Unfortunate? Injudicious?
Even worse than a inauspicious enterprise name is one that is blackened by the individuals or products that represent it; businesses do their best to protect their images. For instance, a company like Disney puts great effort in having its trademark be synonymous with "family entertainment" (although there are those of us who might argue they messed that up long ago). Thus, you won't see Cinderella's Castle just before a graphically violent (or sexual) film starts showing on a movie screen (or your television).
Ultimately, as is true in the Bible, a "name" (as in "the name of the Lord Jesus") is not a bunch of letters organized in a unique way to produce a symbol for an entity—instead it embodies that very being. When we pray, baptize, etcetera in the name of Jesus we aren't just conjuring up some magic word that seals the deal. We are representing the Son of the Most High.
For good or for bad.
When we reflect poorly on Jesus' name we inexcusably put a stumbling block in front of someone—our stupidity may be the excuse an individual uses to reject the Gospel (perhaps permanently). That danger doesn't just exist when we are doing "churchy" things; as Paul noted in Colossians, everything we do "in word or in deed" is to be done "in the name of the Lord Jesus."
What's in a name? Everything. Let's act like it, Christian.
1 History. (n.d.). Dead River Company. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.deadriver.com/why-dead-river/history.aspx
3 Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.facebook.com/pages/SOB-Oil-Company/320919031327#!/pages/SOB-Oil-Company/320919031327?v=info