About 70 years ago, my grandfather, who lived in the former Soviet Union, changed his name from Mendel Barak to Mikhail Barkov. The decision might seem foolish or inconsequential, but these few letters mattered greatly. My grandfather adopted a new name to protect himself and his family from pervasive anti-Semitism in the Communist State. He guarded his identity so closely that our family learned of the change only decades later following perestroika, a period of political and economic restructuring in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. I was 27 years old when I first heard my grandfather’s true name.
In contrast, when my mother-in-law, Nadia Tomashivska, moved to the United States, an immigration official suggested shortening her surname to Thomas. Nadia refused, desiring to preserve her Ukrainian heritage.
In biblical times, like in my family, names carried great significance, telling something of who a person was or would become. Jacob meant “deceiver.” When Jacob encountered God, he asked for a blessing, and he received a new name. In His sovereignty, God renamed Jacob “Israel” (“he struggles with God”), emphasizing not his fallen nature but his divine encounter.
When we encounter God, we, too, have the opportunity to cast off our old names—Skeptic, Liar, Thief, Manipulator—and embrace new identities as Follower, Disciple, Believer, Servant of God. God renames us because He has a different agenda for us.
In Acts 11:26 we read that the disciples were first called Christians,” a name we are honored to bear today. May we, like Israel, be forever reminded that we are not who we were. May we “live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1) as we follow Christ into a broken world, sharing our own stories of transformation and redemption for the glory of Him whose name we bear.
Lord, we are surrounded by and complicit in the brokenness of this world. Thank You for changing our names, helping us cast off who we have been and embrace who You would have us be. Help us to live as people who have been redeemed and renamed.
by Andre Barkov, HOPE Ukraine managing director