what's in a name?

Parents tend to search for significance in the naming of their children. Barby and I are no different. A few things have happened this Christmas to bring this to mind, particularly with our three boys a long, long way away.

Starting with the youngest, Joseph Daniel. Joseph and Daniel are the two prominent male characters in the Old Testament about whom nothing negative is said. They lived in the public world with integrity. They are supreme examples of salt and light before Jesus talked about salt and light. They were embedded in their world and they lived attractively. They lived distinctive lives with distinction. This is still our most fervent prayer for our lad. We are thankful to God for the ways he has answered that prayer in Joseph's life.

Then there is Martin Charles Simeon. His name is much on our minds at the moment. The 'Martin' comes from a long-standing friend of mine. We were 'best man' at each other's weddings. It seems that Martin is developing those qualities of persistent love and quiet loyalty that mark his namesake. There is an added poignancy because my friend Martin is in the midst of a serious struggle with cancer.

The 'Charles' comes from Barby's Dad. At age 91 he has finally retired from full-time pastoral work - something he has been doing for 70 consecutive years. He was the first preacher that I really listened to as a lad. The 'Charles Simeon' is also significant. He was a key figure in the evangelical awakening in Britain in the 19th century, based at Holy Trinity in Cambridge for 54 years. I was a young pastor when Martin was born. Charles Simeon was John Stott's hero and John Stott was mine - and so some nice lineage there. Last week the photo to which I have been looking forward was taken - our Charles Simeon next to the other Charles Simeon ... but our one has been under no pressure to be a pastor for 50-70 years!

Then our eldest son is Stephen James. He is named after his Grandpa Windsor, Raymond Victor James, who died just 18 months ago. To this day Barby and I regret that we did not name him, Stephen Victor James. I was reading a book yesterday and provoked something about Stephen's name which then prompted this post.

With the William Wilberforce story in the headlines recently, you might remember that the key lawyer in the fight for abolition was a man called James Stephen (eventually married to Wilberforce's sister, Sarah). We didn't name our Stephen after him - but retrospective revisionist history is such fun and everyone seems to be doing it! Our Stephen James is also a lawyer with a very similar heart, living in Kampala (Uganda) for the sake of the children orphaned by the brutalities of all kinds in eastern DR of Congo. James Stephen was part of the Clapham Sect which also had one Charles Simeon loitering in the background, offering spiritual counsel and guidance.

Anyhow... I am reading this amazing book at the moment (a review will be forthcoming!) - David Hackett Fischer's Fairness and Freedom, in which he compares and contrasts the history of two 'open societies', New Zealand and the United States. In the book - and playing a crucial role in the early shaping of policies to guide the development of New Zealand - is a 'Sir James Stephen'. Yesterday I found myself totally engrossed in pp77-81, before running off to wikipedia to sort out the lineage. Sir James Stephen is the son of James Stephen - and another lawyer. The father drafted the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807; and the son wrote the final Abolition Act in 1833 - and then was permanent undersecretary of the Colonial Office from 1836-1847. And so it is this nephew of Wilberforce, full of similar convictions to his Uncle Wilby, that shaped the early convictions about what New Zealand should be like. [NB: in reality, a step-nephew, as Sarah died and he was born to Sir James' second wife].

In that revisionist retrospective kind of way, Stephen James is very like his inverted namesake. This is some of what Fisher writes about Sir James Stephen:
He was a man of strict integrity, high moral principle and an abiding concern for equity, justice, and fairness ... (78)
One persistent problem that landed frequently on Sir James Stephen's cluttered desk was the status of New Zealand ... Stephen did not wish to add New Zealand to the empire, mainly because he believed that it rightfully belonged to its Maori inhabitants, whom he regarded as an admirable peopleBut events led him to change his mind. In 1839 he wrote, "The colonization of New Zealand is if not an expedient, at least an inevitable measure. It is, in fact, colonized already by British subjects of the worst possible character, who are doing the greatest possible amount of evil with the least amount of good." (78-79). 
... Under (Stephen's) direction, (New Zealand) was one of the very few colonies in any empire that had no system of race slavery, no penal settlements, no plantation serfdom, no encomienda, no indentured servitude in the eighteenth-century sense ... This new tendency was not a function of New Zealand's climate, terrain, or any material condition. It was a deliberate act of moral choice by British statesmen. (80-81)
Nice chatting and, yes, I am missing my boys.



Anonymous said…
Personally, I'm looking forward to one on the significance of 'Alyssa'
Paul Windsor said…
Well - there is this gorgeous flower called the alyssum with which God was practicing, on the way to the real beauty he had in mind.

Yes, a Part 2 introducing my girls seems like a good idea...

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