For the Eastern mind, a name indicates the essence of a person. Many parents even decide to wait to name a child until they see its face to determine the child’s personality (we could not tell our children’s personality within the first week of life!). I was given the name Sabah (صباح) when I was born. Sabah is an Arabic name that means early morning or dawn. For those who know me… that is a big, gigantic misnomer! I cannot function in the mornings. Instead, around 6 pm, I happen to get my big burst of energy. So where did “Mona” come from? It was a nickname given to me by my uncle who died at an early age. Out of remembrance for him, my family continued to use his nickname for me, his little doll.
In the Bible, The Lord places much emphasis in names. He gives Adam the privilege of naming the animals ~ The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:20 Adam also names Eve (Gen 2:23). Later in Genesis 17:15, God gives Abram and Sarai new names also, for they were a new creation in Him. He changed Abram (means Father in Hebrew) to Abraham (means Father of many). Sarai’s name was a bit different. Some say that the original name may have a root of meaning quarrelsome or argumentative. Then the name was changed to Sarah or “my princess.” The Lord continues to do this with Jacob along with others all the way to the New Testament when we see Saul’s name changed to Paul.
As a Muslim, my heritage was no different than others in the East. There was great significance in names and religious names were considered superior, for they were given to prophets and God’s people. Even before Stephen and I had children, we had settled on the name of our first child – it would be Jacob (Arabic – Yaʿqūb) and if it was a girl, it would be Sarah. We both liked the fact that Jacob’s name could be Muslim and Christian. The name Sarah was different: it was Stephen’s great grandmother’s name and for me, it was my best friend’s name in Pakistan. When our first born son was born, we named him Jacob. We didn’t really do much research into what the name actually meant – holder of the heel, underminer, supplanter. All we knew was that the name was in both of our Holy books and that was good enough for us.
When our second son came, we were at a loss. I wanted Gabriel or David – both were strong names in the Quran and Bible. Stephen wanted John for his father’s name. We couldn’t agree. One day, a close friend came over and we were talking about baby names. She suggested “Joshua” – when we asked why, she simply replied “Sounds good with Jacob!” So much for picking thoughtful names… we went with Joshua for our second-born son.
For our daughter who came next, her name had been chosen over 9 years before she arrived! It was a no-brainer: Sarah if it was a girl and John David if it was a boy.
Looking back on all this as a Christian who converted from Islam, I cannot help but see the uncanny way The Lord was mapping out my life with my children’s names: Jacob – the liar, the one who undermined his brother and wrestled with God, Joshua – He Saves (also Yeshua in Aramaic – the name given to our Lord and Savior, Jesus) and finally, Sarah – my princess.
In the first part of my life, I wrestled continuously with the constraints put upon me through Islam. There were so many rules and I felt like I kept breaking all of them (not intentionally, but one after another). The wrestling continued until I met The ONE Who Saves, Jesus Christ. He then called me “His princess.”
God has a plan for each one of us (see Jeremiah 29:11), this is a plan to prosper us and not harm us, a plan to allow us to walk closely with Him. In His graciousness, He allows me now to look back and see that He was always with me – in my struggle, confusion, in a plan to redeem me for His purpose and a plan to allow me to dwell in the House of the Lord forever as His Princess.
What a beautiful God He is! Amen!