In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet speaks to herself and says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (act 2, scene 2, lines 43–44). By definition your name is a word by which you are known. Each of our names represents who we are. Our reputation or the opinion generally held of us is always inextricably linked to our name. Yes, our name and reputation are inseparable. Our good name and reputation are priceless.
We all want a good name. Companies will spend millions of dollars in finding just the right name for their business; parents will ponder and deliberate for months on what to name their child. But, once given, we are left with the task of forging our name from a well-lived life.
We become our name.
Alexander the Great was in a fierce battle when he saw one of his soldiers flee in fear. Normally this offense would have been punishable by immediate death. The soldier, hardly more than a boy, was brought before the conqueror. When asked his name, the young man answered, “Alexander.” Those watching this encounter noted that Alexander the Great softened upon hearing the soldier’s name was the same as his own. He spared the man’s life with these words: “Change your name or change your behavior!”
Our name becomes that immortal part of a person that will survive death. If we leave behind a good name, we will be remembered and our memory will be blessed long after we are gone. But, if we leave behind a bad name it will be rotted away in oblivion. Consider the names Adolph and Hitler. Because of the reputation that goes with those names, following World War II, many members of the Hitler family immigrated to live in the U.S. but they changed their name. Very few people ever knew who they were. They didn’t commit the crimes that Adolph Hitler committed, but that name had a negative stigmatism attached to it.
If you want a good name, one that is priceless, let me encourage you to:
Live with integrity—Do what is right. A person of integrity is the same person when no one is looking as when they are looking. They have deep convictions. They know that what they have left after they have lost everything there is to lose is their integrity. They cannot be bought.
After the Civil War a group of wealthy businessmen started an insurance company and wanted to use Robert E. Lee’s name. They would pay him a comfortable salary, and he wouldn’t have to do any work! When he discovered that they just wanted to use his name, General Lee responded to them, “Gentlemen, I have nothing left but my name, and that is not for sale.”
Walk humbly—Keep your feet on the ground and your nose out of the air. Want a good name? Be humble or you will stumble. Count on it. Humility is not becoming the proverbial doormat, allowing everyone they encounter to walk all over them. Humility is thinking true and realistic thoughts about yourself. Former President Harry Truman used to say, “I was here by accident and I try to remember where I came from and where I’m going back to.” We would do well to remember that, too.
Give generously—Find blessing in sharing. No one ever makes a name for themselves by what they have received or inherited. Oh, they may be a fleeting headline in the paper and the topic of some conversation. But, only those who give generously make a lasting name for themselves. These people are respected, honored, and blessed. The problem with many people is that “when it comes to giving they stop at nothing.” Become a generous person and you will make a name for yourself.
Speak the truth—Don’t lie. Do you lie? The truth is that everybody lies. Remember the story of George Washington cutting down the cherry tree. His father asked him who did it. George is supposed to have said, “I cannot tell a lie; it was me.” That story was in the biography written by Parson Weems in the nineteenth century. But, he made it up. A most famous name—George Washington—and the most famous story about truth-telling—cutting down the cherry tree—was a lie.
People with a good name speak the truth. Honesty is a hallmark of their lives. Earl Nightingale calls personal honesty “The Unfailing Boomerang.” Whatever we say always comes back on us. If we speak lies then we will develop a reputation as a liar. If we tell the truth, we will be known as a person of honesty.
One last thought. A man fell seriously ill and had a dream in which he saw his grandfather after whom he had been named. His grandfather looked at me earnestly and said: “I would like to know what you have done with my name.” At that moment everything the man had ever done passed before him as though it were a picture on a screen. He, then, smiled, looked at his grandfather and said: “I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.”
That, indeed, is a priceless name.