Not much, if the Home Office is to be believed. You have a name and you have a number. You have a country of origin, a date of birth. Data on a system; a jumble of letters and numbers. Your name is part of that jumble.

Shakespeare’s Juliet would have agreed: there’s nothing in a name.

That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

But Juliet had a problem. She was in love with Romeo, and Romeo’s second name was Montagu. There was war between their families, and Juliet was desperate. She wished that Romeo had a different name, an inoffensive name, a name that would bring marriage and blessings rather than the deepening of war.

Like the rose, Romeo would be as sweet by any other name, would he not?

Juliet knew very well that names can be rich with meaning and history. There is, in general, something in a name, and names can bring people closer or drive them apart. When a person’s name is replaced with a number, something precious has been stolen.

In the storytelling group, we’ve been thinking about our names. How do we feel about them? Do we like them? What do they mean? What stories are associated with them? Why did our parents choose them? What do they tell us about ourselves, our families, our cultures?

A name is like a word of welcome into the world.

We discovered beauty in every one of our names. Some have wonderful abstract meanings: praiseworthy, blessed, shining light, joy, holiness. Some are names of angels, prophets, fine Biblical characters. Some are associated with nature, with earth. Some simply have beautiful sounds, like a melody that plays quietly throughout your life.

We are going to bring stories about our names to this group, and Ruth got the ball rolling by talking about Ruth from the Old Testament. It’s an inspiring story. The Book of Ruth reminds us that, in the midst of war, famine and bloodshed (for so it was at the time), there can be friendship and peace.

After escaping famine and living in exile for years, Naomi decided to return to her homeland. Her husband and two sons had died in exile, and she had two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. 

“Go back to your families,” she said. “It’s time for us part.” Orpah agreed.

But Ruth refused. “Do not urge me to leave you,” she said to Naomi. “Wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”

Or in old-fashioned language: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

The name Ruth means ‘friend’ in Hebrew; and we understand its English meaning from the word ‘ruthless’. Ruth is the opposite of ruthless; it means pity or compassion, and like all our names, it can bring hope and a sense of meaning when times are hard. It’s wonderful to have been welcomed into the world by names like ours.

In addition to bringing stories about our names to the group, we are making a list of the languages we speak in the Cotton Tree. We have about twenty so far, and there will be many more. How do you say ‘welcome’ in all these languages? This is what we want to find out.