what is naming you?

Written by Kelli Woodford

Kelli Woodford hopes never to recover from the Mighty Mercy she has been shown. Although her life is now filled with more diapers than she’d like to count, she carves time out to write about finding God in the simple and the frustrating at Chronicles of Grace (http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/).

January 21, 2013

Coretta King, Martin Luther King, Jr., name meanings

You know what today is, right?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A day we remember the way he lived. The way he taught us to love and to fight — and to love without fighting, but never to fight without loving. What a legacy he left.

And this year it occurs to me that his parents named him Martin Luther. No, I mean really think about it. The name rolls off our tongues now, we’ve said it and heard it so many times, but they hadn’t.

They thought it up: We’ll name our son a name of power, of poise, of promise . . .

A name that speaks of change.

And they did. It was his name before he stood up and declared that he had a dream, before Rosa Parks wouldn’t park it in the back of the bus, before he preached a sermon, got his doctorate, met the president, won the Nobel Peace Prize, or altered American history.

Before all that, his parents named him after the great, brave theologian, Martin Luther of Germany.

They named their son Reformer.

And so he was.

A name is powerful thing. And I don’t claim to know how it all works together, but I think MLK’s story is highly suggestive that a name can foretell the shaping of a destiny.

I have been called some names, too.

Some of them I have earned, while others have claimed me. Some of them have been objective and suitable, others unbalanced by the subjectivity of the observer. Some uttered in the raging fury of a hot moment, others sculpted carefully with artistic precision.

One name that I still trip over from time to time is woman — used in the worst sense of the word, as an insult. And although the word is true, the connotation with which it gained utterance is not me. I will not be swallowed by the gaping jaws of that identity.

And so I am. And I am not.

Perhaps MLK knew this, too. He knew racial slurs, he knew disrespect. He knew what it was like to be judged skin-deep. To be given a name that you are, but then again, that you are not. It might be the lot of every person to ever walk this sod. That we are, but we are not.

Although we don’t decide the words and labels that get thrown in our direction, we can decide whether or not to let them name us. To let them shape us.

And that’s why I’ve got it in big, bold strokes, covering the top third of the white board in my kitchen:

“What’s naming you?” Because I would be standing at the counter, doing something docile and benign, like chopping broccoli for dinner, and in would pop this thought. A memory, an imagination, a scenario. The innocence of broccoli has never been so deceiving. I would rewind and replay and rewind and replay. Then I would swim through the murky waters of assumption and land on how I believed I was perceived by others. From there, all that remained was to draw a neat little line at the bottom of the page, concluding which label they probably chose.

Before I knew it, I would be crying in the salad, naming myself with this tag.

A borrowed tag. A label surmised. A painful identity.

And all the while, He calls me one name. Longs for me, weeps for me, to receive the word that He sings through the laughter spilling from children’s lips and the intoxicating beauty of His earth, combed fine by the bleary January wind.

This was my name before I caught His scent or heard the Song. This is my name when it’s too hot inside my soul and it’s too hairy in this skin. This is my name when the world erupts in praise or screams in protest.

He simply names me Beloved.

And so I am.


  1. Shelly Miller

    I wear a necklace that my husband brought back from Israel, a symbol for the word Beloved that I treasure. Sometimes its good to wear it around my neck, rub my fingers over the metal and let the truth sink in. Love your thoughts here Kelli, I’m not sure that there isn’t a person on the planet that doesn’t struggle with false labels. Thank you for being courageous enough to admit your own struggle.

    • kelli woodford

      i bet that is a beautiful necklace. if i had one, i’d probably rub it smooth.
      needing it to sink deeper. 🙂
      thanks for your kind words, shelly. you always make me smile.

  2. Kris Camealy

    I so appreciate this post. I have struggled so long with claiming the name “beloved”. I want so badly for that to sum up my identity in Christ, but still there are days where it feels so overwhelming to wear that name. Thank you, friend. This is encouraging to me today.

    • kelli woodford

      dear Kris.
      maybe we always write from the epic battle waging in our own soul, eh?
      i totally relate to you. and i love you for your vulnerability here.

  3. Sandra Heska King

    Did you know that MLK’s father *changed* both their names from Michael to Martin when MLK was about 5? The whole story is kind of murky (wrong name recorded on a birth certificate, apparently), but the fact that MLK’s parents claimed a name of change kind of gives me chills.

    We’ve been changed, and God calls us Beloved. We need to claim that name, yes?

    • kelli woodford

      Sandy, you complete the story better than i could have! thank you for that piece of information.

      and yes. claiming it and letting it change me. daily.

  4. Danelle

    I am writing this on paper too. . “What is naming you?” Oh goodness. I am just like you Kelli, crying into my salad bowl when the wrong names, the ones that aren’t from Him, creep in. But I am Beloved. A name to be cherished and remembered and heard above all the negative noise of the enemy.

    • kelli woodford

      yes. above all that noise. above all the “creepings in.”
      amen to this, Danelle.

  5. Media Baldwin

    I love this: “Although we don’t decide the words and labels that get thrown in our
    direction, we can decide whether or not to let them name us. To let them
    shape us.”

    I’ve been struggling with this concept very much lately. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.

    • kelli woodford

      me, too. it’s a gory battle, but very worth the fight.
      at least, i speak for myself.

      thank you for reading. your comment makes me feel not alone.

  6. Alicia Bruxvoort

    The question alone makes me pause— what’s naming you? And, of course, as a mother, I must ask, “how am I NAMING the little ones growing big beneath my roof.” Humbling and hopeful all at once. Love how you’re sharing your gift here:)

    • kelli woodford

      YES. that is so true, Alicia.
      to look at the names i might be leaving in my wake is a very frightening, but very necessary, thing.


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what is naming you?

by Kelli Woodford time to read: 3 min