One of the many traditions in Africa I have come to love is hearing the names parents choose for their children. Names such as Precious, Blessing, Gift, Innocence, Patience, or God’s Love. When I hear names like these, I always smile and think to myself how wonderful to grow up with a name which tells the world what hopes and dreams loving parents have for you. Or as in some African cultures, what feelings the parents were experiencing at the time of birth.
Several months ago, my wife and I spent some delightful time with the Okot family, who come from Uganda and are serving a mission in Bulawayo. These wonderful parents have named their five children Hope, Faith, Charity, Love Divine, and Peace. We have grown to love this family and have no doubt these outstanding children will grow up inspired by each having the names of one of these Christlike virtues.
Other cultures choose names in different ways. In some cultures, the grandparents choose the name of the firstborn. Many children are named after parents and grandparents or favorite uncles and aunts. Some choose the names of kings and queens. Native Americans often use events in nature, animals, or birds to name their children. Some use names of ancient or modern prophets or apostles. Not long ago I met a wonderful young couple in Tanzania who have named their little baby boy Bednar.
In Proverbs we read, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1).
I love what Helaman taught his two sons, Lehi and Nephi, about why he chose their names:
“I have given you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this have I done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when you remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.
“Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them” (Helaman 5:6–7).
No matter what culture we come from, when we are baptized and confirmed, the Apostle Paul teaches that we become “new creatures” and “saints.”1 At baptism, we covenant to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ. And every Sunday we renew that covenant and promise to take upon ourselves His name during the sacrament prayer.
President Russell M. Nelson taught us what it means to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ by saying: “Taking the Savior’s name upon us includes declaring and witnessing to others—through our actions and words—that Jesus is the Christ.”2 He also invited us to “be intentional about talking of Christ” and to seek opportunities to share our testimonies of Him with our families and friends.3
Here in Africa, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still a small minority, and the Church itself is relatively unknown. But many Africans love Jesus Christ and reverence His name. Think of how often we see His name on taxis or businesses. A friend recently spoke of a tire repair store cleverly and devoutly called “Jesus Will Alignment.”4
In other parts of the world, the Church has often been defined by others. But in Africa, where the desire to know Jesus Christ is so strong and where the Church is emerging out of obscurity, we can forever correctly define the Church as the restored Church of Jesus Christ. We will do this by using the correct name of the Church and by living the gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts and homes.
Therefore, the next time you are asked what church you belong to, pause and think of the name you have taken upon yourself, then with a smile, testify of Him by boldly declaring, “I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or even “I am a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
So, what’s in a name? President Nelson says that when it comes to the name of the Lord’s Church the answer is, “Everything!”5
And when it comes to our own personal names? No matter how our parents chose our given names, the most important name is that which we take upon ourselves each Sunday during the sacrament ordinance, even the name of Jesus Christ. May we each live worthy of that name by always remembering Him and by being true disciples of Jesus Christ.
S. Mark Palmer was named a General Authority Seventy in April 2016. He is married to Jacqueline Ann Wood; they are the parents of six children.