In the ancient world, names had greater meaning. Your name could define your divine purpose. It could define how you would be a blessing to the world or fulfill a generational punishment. For example, Ishmael which means, “God (El) has hearkened,” suggests that “a child so named was regarded as the fulfillment of a divine promise.”
Eldest son of Abraham by his concubine Hagar; born when Abraham was eighty-sixed years of age (Genesis 16:15-16), God promised Abraham that His blessing should be upon Ishmael, who, He foretold, would beget twelve princes and would become a great nation (Genesis 17:18, 20). Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen (Gen 17:23-26). When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son Isaac, his brother, younger by fourteen years, she insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael and his slave-mother. Abraham reluctantly yielded, having provided them with bread and a bottle of water. Ishmael was about to die of thirst when an angel showed his mother a well, repeating to her at the same time that Ishmael would become a great nation. Ishmael dwelt in the wilderness, apparently, of Beer-sheba, where he became a skillful archer; later he settled in the wilderness of Paran, where his mother took him a wife from Egypt (Gen. 21:8-21) 
He fathered the nomadic Arab nations. He was named to be a child of the promise. However, his life did not turn out the way he and his mother thought, but he did birth a great nation. Ishmael did his part to help fulfill God’s promise to prosper him. He realized the importance of family and had 12 sons. Their warrior tribes eventually inhabited most of the countries in the Middle East.
Then there is Joshua. Joshua began his life as an Egyptian slave. He lived under cruel Egyptian taskmasters but did not let that define who he was. Joshua rose to be the leader of Israel. He was faithful and obedient to God. Moses gave Hosea son of Nun a new name that would redefine his calling from God. He would be called Joshua (Yeshua in Hebrew) means “the Lord is Salvation.” This name indicated that he would serve as a “type,” or picture, of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
My favorite name is Emmanuel, (God with us). How fitting a name for Jesus Christ. When the disciples asked about the Father in John 14, I love Jesus’ response. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” John 14:6-10
Jesus’ name not only described who He was but also why He came. He came to be a perfect replacement for humankind and to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin.
Today names still matter. They still have the power to define, empower or demoralize whole groups of people. For example, the word, “black” is described on Wikipedia as, “the darkest color resulting from the absence or complete absorption of light. In the Roman Empire, it became the color of mourning, and over the centuries it was frequently associated with death, evil, witches and magic. According to surveys in Europe and North America, it is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil and elegance.” Now just stop and think about this for a moment. We used that word to define an entire race of people. “Black Americans” are often feared and associated with force, violence, and evil. Did you ever stop to think that possibility we are projecting the name and its characteristics onto an entire race of people?
Now take the word “white” using the same source, Wikipedia describes “white” as, “a color without hue. White is one of the most common colors in nature. The color of sunlight, snow, milk, chalk, limestone and other common materials. In many cultures, white signifies purity, innocence, and light and is the symbolic opposite of black, or darkness. According to the surveys in Europe and the United States, it is the color most often associated with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, the beginning, the new, neutrality, and exactitude.”
Do you notice the contrast? One is dangerous, evil and violent while the other name points to purity and all things good. If we allow ourselves and our races to be defined by these labels you can see what happens when we live up to those definitions. One side is good the other is evil, so this racial division only grows wider.
Our names personally given to us, get lost when we are defined by our race, or gender or sexual preference. For us to get beyond the stereotypes, we must ditch these social identities. There are no black or white people. There are Sarahs, Thomases, Shamika and Jamaals. We are not the names nor the character traits associated with the titles, “black” and “white.” We were not all created the same. We are as unique and different as the snowflakes, clouds in the sky and the blades of grass. Each of us comes from diverse backgrounds and varied experiences. We are individuals, created by the hands of God, the master artist. For us to shatter the tensions of race, we must see each person as an individual, not a group. Names have consequences and so do perceptions.
My author page is up and running. You can click on it and get a free sample of lesson one. Check it out. The Bible study will be released on March 21st my father’s birthday. Wow, now that is a God-thing. Here is a new endorsement. “The study is dangerous and risky. It will demand open and honest conversation. . . . The study will likely make a predominately white-Missouri synod feel discomfort as we talk about prejudice, discrimination, hatred, diversity, and divisions. So be it.”
—Rev. Bart Day, Executive Director of National Mission for the LCMS