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Of perennial interest to expecting parents, grandparents and other interested parties is the list of most popular baby names.

It is interesting to review the top 50 for girls and boys and see the shifting conventions as well as ethnic influence.

Biblical names remain more popular for boys, but Mary did not even make the top 50 in 2019. Neither did Molly, by the way.

One of the more interesting aspects of entering solemn vows in a monastic community is receiving a new name.

The candidate submits three names to the abbot or prioress, the spiritual head of the community, and then he or she chooses the name.

There is concern that there not be too many bearing the same name in a particular community as well as an attempt to honor the request of the new brother or sister.

It is a way to bring remembrance of sainted forebears alive in the present and to give clarity to one’s life direction.

Names carry an aspirational quality, and parents want to grant a graceful gift for an offspring to carry throughout life.

Sometimes they get it wrong, like the unfortunate naming of Moon Unit by the Zappa family.

Perhaps the worst example of naming comes from the prophet Hosea, who is instructed by God to name his son Jezreel to signal a valley where Israel was defeated.

He named his daughter Lo-ruhamah, which means not pitied. Finally, again under God’s instruction, Hosea (evidently with Gomer’s consent) names his second son Lo-ammi, which means not my people. This final name is a stark rebuke for the people God had claimed as “my people.”

The Revised Common Lectionary has been walking us through the prophets in recent weeks, and this coming Sunday will plunge us into the interesting and convoluted story of Hosea and his wife of questionable virtue.

As scholars of Scripture have argued, the story of the prophet’s marriage to a wanton woman is a metaphor for God’s own story with the people of covenant, who regularly take up with others.

“Each child symbolically represents the deteriorating state of the nation,” in the words of Gail Yee. A prophetic oracle can speak to a new epoch even as it spoke to its own historical context.

I wonder what names might characterize the current state of the U.S.?

Could a prophet rightly name us “idolatrous” as we seem to worship everything but the living God? We worship our possessions, our privilege and our prejudices.

Or might we be aptly named “cruel” as our struggle to welcome strangers falters over and over? The treatment of those seeking asylum on our border is disgraceful.

What if a prophet named the U.S. “bully” for how we threaten with military might any who opposes our empire? We do enjoy rhetoric about our destructive powers.

The judgment of God usually takes the form of reaping what we sow. I pray that our nation would be worthy of better names.

At the end of the Hosea passage, God says through the prophet that it was still possible to bear the name “Children of the living God.” May it be so.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Marshall’s blog, Trinitarian Soundings. It is used with permission.

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