What’s in a name? Really, I mean it. I recently heard accomplished professional say that the only thing you really own in life is your name. Our pastor preached a sermon on Sunday in which he told us he would give us two names to see how we would respond to each. The first was: Adolph Hitler. After a few seconds of gag reflex, he then gave us the name of our beloved pastor emeritus who is battling cancer. Immediately, a warm feeling and smile came to our minds. This is because name is actually made up of reputation. Reputation is made up of actions taken, or not taken. And our actions come from what we believe deep down. Jesus said that the one who hears His words and puts them into practice would be a Wise Man, and the one who hears and does nothing is a Foolish Man. Two names, two different reputations because of their choices in life.
It seems that many are flippant about the value of their name in this day and age. It used to be that a woman’s honor and reputation was a very precious thing to be protected at all cost. This can be easily observed among the ladies of Jane Austen’s fictional worlds. Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters do not have very much money to entice worthy gentlemen to marry them. However, they still have their dignity if they so choose. The youngest sisters (Lydia, in particular) flaunt themselves in public and behave in totally juvenile and inappropriate ways. Elizabeth is worried about what this communicates to others. But we are only responsible for our own actions, and as Elizabeth’s father tells her, “Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters.” When Lydia runs away with Wickham, it does cast an unfortunate shadow across the entire family. It takes men of excellent character- Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy- to look past that and recognize the treasure to be found in the two oldest Bennet girls.
Another Jane Austen character is also not so careful. In “Northanger Abbey,” Catherine’s friend Isabella Thorpe goes out of her way to attract male losers in Bath. Once she has sullied her reputation, she no longer has the respect of others. Her story is a sad one with no happy ending. Incidentally, Austen draws a connection here between a girl’s reading material and the lifestyle she chooses to emulate. Thank goodness our heroine Catherine finds better friends to hang around with before it’s too late!
Does this mean that a person’s good name once lost is lost forever? We certainly don’t have to live or die by others’ opinions of us, but it is very difficult to gain one’s integrity back again. That is why it is so valuable. Proverbs tells us that a good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold (21:1). And Proverbs 3:4 says, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
Unfortunately, it is popular in this #metoo culture to be found guilty based solely on the seriousness of the charge. A lot of good reputations have been shot down where there was plenty of accusation in the absence of crime. A heroine named Hero [don’t ask me how she got that name] finds this to be the case in Shakespeare’s famous play “Much Ado About Nothing.” Hero is engaged to Claudio, but an enemy spreads lies about her virginity and she is horribly accused at the altar. A state of mayhem ensues and Hero suffers miserably. We cannot always control what others think of us, and we are only responsible for our own actions before God. But Hero is lucky to have one who challenges her accuser to a duel to defend her honor. (This was obviously back in the day when gentlemen did such things). Because a good name is worth fighting for.
In real life, Billy Graham knew this well. I do not know of a more devoted couple than he and his wife, Ruth. Mrs. Graham asserted that even though her husband was often away on evangelistic duties, the times when he was home was worth more to her than if she had left him for someone else. And the Rev. Graham always maintained his marital loyalty by living by what is now called “the Billy Graham rule” (never being alone with another woman). Many may not follow this lifestyle for different reasons, but the risks do increase. How refreshing to know of two faithful souls who loved God and each other and modeled grace to us!
Another respectable real-life person that has recently passed away is First Lady Barbara Bush. Even if a person doesn’t care for Bush politics, I think deep down most would have to agree that she exemplified good character with good humor. Another Proverb says that “a kindhearted woman gains respect…”
Now more than ever, we need role models whose names inspire us to live similar lives of integrity. We need to be people who value our reputations, so that others will see God reflected through us and praise Him. We need the next generation to know what a good character looks like, amidst a world that says one thing and lives another. What is your name worth?