I met my name last month.
It was the rainiest day we've had this fall. Everything was cold and wet and had been cold and wet since early the night before. It was going on late afternoon now and I was doing some work at the kitchen table. Someone knocked on the door. Our knocker is heavy and echoes through the house, feeling like the jolt of a morning alarm, like the world is ending and it wanted to alert you to that fact before the elements started to melt. I ran as fast as I could (my socks nearly took my legs out from under me) and hesitated at the door. I don't usually expect someone to be at the front door. If it was my dorm room, this would be normal. People just don't use front doors very often unless they are on official business or are trying to sell something.
It was our mail carrier. She held a package and a clipboard and pen. "Hello!" she said cheerfully. I wondered at how cheerful she could be since she had had to run through a puddled street to reach my front porch stoop for shelter. "Just sign here please!" I took the package, covered in chinese text (Ah yes. The dance shoes Sarah had ordered) and used it as a prop to lean the clip board on. I handed it back and was turning to go inside when she said, "Oh! I need you to print here as well. Sorry about that." I said it wasn't a problem and started to write on the line she indicated.
"What's your name?"
I looked up and hesitated. Why did she need to know that? But then again, she had my signature so she could read it if she wanted. She must have seen it already.
She smiled. "That's mine too! Dana Ray Wolfe."
"Wow!" I said, more out of obligation to seem surprised. "Have a good day!"
"You too!" she replied and ran back across the street to the parked mail truck.
I didn't have time in our interaction to actually consider how strange it was for us to have the same name. Dana Ray. Ray must have been her maiden name, as it is mine, and just married into Wolfe, who knows how many years ago. Names carry a great deal of significance. People in the Bible name their children all kinds of things like "The Lord has abandoned me" or "We've Run Out of Food" or "Israel is a Prostitute" (see Hosea's kid's' names). Ruth's mother in law changes her name to "Maura" to show that her life had become bitter. It both says what something symbolizes and shapes what that person or thing is to become.
Someone else in the world carries my name and lives a life that is not mine. I am young, in college. She delivers our mail and smiles waiting for people to sign the forms.
I've always been told that "Dana" means "God is My Judge". When I was little, this seemed the ugliest, most cumbersome meaning I could have. It made me seem old and somber. Why couldn't I have a cool meaning like Hannah's, meaning "graceful"? After meeting my name on the front porch, I decided to do some more research.
Ray" is an English name surname. My great-grandmother was German (maiden name "Roemer") and married someone with English roots from Deposit, New York. I was named "Dana" because it "sounded nice". I agree. I like my name a lot. Interestingly though, Dana is German as well. The Germans decided it wasn't fair that only their boys could be named after someone as cool and brave as Daniel in the Bible, so they came up with their own female version. There is also some reason to believe that it comes from the Balkans (Bulgaria/Macedonia region) and was used as an addition to other names (kind of like "Anna" is in Joanna, Hannah, Susannah, etc).
I suppose part of the reason I dislike "God is My Judge" so much is that it doesn't say so much about me as it does about someone else. I'd like a name that meant a characteristic I hold. Instead, I have a name that is attached to other syllables to make them sound better. I have a name that says that I am without a say in my own justification, in what happens in my life. Rather unpleasant and weighty. Or... is it? Another issue I've had with that meaning is that it should apply to everyone. God judges the world, not just me. Judging is negative. It implies condemnation. God would never judge in my favor.
That is Dana without the gospel, the Dana that lives most of her days attempting happy judgments on herself. It is foolishness to live without God's judgment. What if I lived as if no other judgment existed? What if I lived because no other judgment exists? And that His glance at me shows Him Christ? What if I saw my name as being named, made like Christ? That would change it quite a bit.
Names are not something we get to choose. Our parents chose them. Adam chose the name for the animals. Adam got his name from God. Naming is a way of being made, of declaring what is and declaring what someone is to become. I don't know how me and my mail carrier ended up with the same maiden name. We aren't related, but we're both carrying (unintentional) symbols of where our identity does not lie. It isn't in my university studies. It isn't in delivering mail. It's in a judgment that we are not allowed to control.
And "Dana Ray" just has a fun ring to it. Rolls off the tongue quite well.