Now this admission is going to be rather heart-breaking for my father, who hand-picked this name for me. As a boy, my dad spent most of his holidays with an English family on the Isles of Scilly, just off the Cornish coast. My Dutch grand-father decided he wanted his son to learn to speak English and, given that he had business dealings with the bulb-growers on the Islands, Scilly was the perfect place to send his twelve year old son. My dad did indeed learn to speak English, but he gained far more than that. In Scilly, he found a place of remote beauty, of water, boats, history and ship-wrecks. He also found a sense of belonging in the home of the Shorts, whose two sons were about his age; he still calls them his ‘English brothers.’ Then there was of course his beloved ‘English mother’, Joan Short. Joan was the name that, for Dad, represented all that was lovely, warm and welcoming about Scilly and so he proudly bestowed it on his second daughter.
Knowing all this should have made me–at the very least–appreciate my name. After all, it’s got the rich strands of history and family and friendship woven into it. But as a child, all I knew was that every Joan I‘d ever met was old. No, not just old…ancient (just to drive home this point, Dad’s wonderful Joan Short turned 101 this year!) Apparently the name ranked as the 7th most popular girl’s name in the USA…in 1930. There just weren’t any Joan’s in my generation and I seriously disliked it.
Yet today, for the very first time in my life, I was delighted to be a Joan. In Dear Abba, by Brennan Manning, I read these words, spoken to a man named John (of which Joan is the feminine version, meaning ‘gift of God’)
“Go back and live out your name; live like the beloved of Abba. Some may ask you, but most others will simply observe the way you live. Some will call you crazy, some may even try and silence your voice, but some will stop and wonder. Your courage in living as Abba’s beloved can give others the strength to do the same. For in the end only one thing remains—Abba’s love. John, now it is your turn. Define yourself as one beloved by God.”
My name, it turns out, is a constant reminder that I am the beloved treasure of God, and today I revel in that love and take up the challenge of defining myself as such and then living it out as courageously as I can.
Here’s the thing. Whether your name reminds you of it or not, you too are the cherished child of God. It’s not easy getting our heads around that fact, but maybe understanding doesn’t even have to come into it. All we need to do is accept it, remind ourselves of it as often as necessary and then simply and boldly live as THE BELOVED OF ABBA. Joyfully Joan