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OPENING THOUGHTS: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Mar 10, 2023 | News

We all have a name. In fact, we all have names. Some of us have two: first and last. Some have three: first, middle and last. Others may have four or five names. Whether it’s two, three, or more, each of the names within our name carries meaning and purpose. The ways our individual names are used in various combinations also has significance.

As a child I knew that when my mom used my first and middle names in combination, it was not an invitation to a friendly conversation and I needed to proceed with caution. On the rare occasion that she used all three of my names, things were about to go nuclear and I needed to “duck and cover.” Names carry clues about our family story and suggest connections and relationships. Names point to our roots and our heritage. Names identify us. We’re usually known by our first and last names but commonly referred to by just our first name.

Last names identify us with our family of origin, but in reality extend further. They tie us to a larger group or category who also share the same last name but don’t necessarily have a direct familial connection.

Middle names often give clues to an obvious, or sometimes obscure, familial connection. My wife’s middle name is Audrey and those familiar with her family of origin quickly connect that name to her maternal grandmother. One of our grandsons carries the middle name of his great- great-grandfather. This clue, although obscure to the casual observer, points to a familial connection in a more refined way than just his last name. In both cases those middle names point to a connection to a certain tribe within a larger group.

First names are more personal and may be completely unique to the individual within the family. I am the only person named Mark within our tribe, but it’s doubtful that I am the only Mark Cork within the larger Cork grouping. I assume your personal experience is similar.

Northwest Nazarene University, like many people, also has three names. However, unlike people who are typically referred to by their first name or perhaps first and last, we use all three of our names. Or, in the tradition of academia, our three initials: NNU. Each of the three is essential to who we are and each tells part of our story.

Our last name, University, identifies what we are first and foremost by associating us with the group or category we’re part of. By using the categorical term “university,” people have a high level understanding of what we are. The group we’re a part of. We are a university and as such we share commonalities with other institutions of higher education. But, university by itself is insufficient as an identifier.

Our first name, Northwest, is narrower and more personal and provides people with an understanding of our location within the larger context. In our case the Northwest region of the United States. While it’s more personal it’s too common to stand on its own as an identifier. It connects us to a region but not much more.

Our middle name, Nazarene, begins to zero in on our identity by connecting us to both the Christian tribe, and the more specific Nazarene tribe. This is an important identifier declaring that NNU is centered in Jesus Christ. It’s true that just because Nazarene is our middle name doesn’t mean it has to be everyone’s middle name. However, we believe it’s significant that the center of our focus and our “tribal connections” are represented in our middle name.

Northwest Nazarene University: Centered in Jesus Christ.

Mark B Cork, AVP Marketing & Communications

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