The remembrance of the righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the wicked will rot. Proverbs 10:7 HCSB
A good name is to be chosen over great wealth;
favor is better than silver and gold. Proverbs 22:1 HCSB
I remember having a wooden plaque painted like a baseball hanging in my room as a kid. It had my name in big letters and Proverbs 22:1 written out underneath. I think it may have even had “crowned one” underneath my name (stephanos is the Greek name for Stephen/Steven and means “crowned one,” or so it claimed).
In these two verses, the value of one’s name is held up as a vitally important concern. In the biblical mindset, someone’s name is far, far more than an identifier; your name encapsulates everything about you. Your name is who you are.
That’s why the giving and changing of names is such a big deal in the Bible. Adam–God’s image and representative ruler over His newly formed creation–names the animals. He names Eve. Abram becomes Abraham because of God’s promise. Isaac (“he laughs”) indicates the joy he brings to his parents. Jacob (“he cheats”) becomes Israel (“he wrestles with God”). The sons of Israel are named based on the circumstances of their conception (e.g., Joseph (“one who adds”) was added to Rachel; Dan (“judge”) was God’s supposed judging in favor of Leah). Simon becomes Peter, the “rock.” It is Yahweh’s name that is not to be taken in vain. It is by the name of Jesus alone that we can be saved. It is at the name of Jesus that every knee bows.
I even named my daughter Eliana (“my God has answered”) because my wife and I prayed for years to have a child. She is the living, breathing embodiment of the answer to those prayers. Her name means something.
We see something of the significance of a name when we compare these two verses. Proverbs 10:7 consists of two lines that are set up as a contrast with one another. The parallelism of this (and many other proverbs and poetic passages in the Bible) helps interpret each line based on the other. The contrast is between the righteous and the wicked, but they both have a “name” or a “remembrance.”
Your name is your remembrance. This makes sense (which a proverb should, obviously). I remember a big part of the difficulty in choosing a name for Ellie was that suggested names all brought up associations from the past that were not pleasant memories. The name was more than a label; it brought up a remembrance of the person.
To combine the two verses, then, we see that the value of a good name is greater than money or silver or gold because it is a remembrance. Your name is who you are, what you are like, what you do, what you believe, what you stand for, what you represent–all of what makes you, you. Your name stands for what you are known and remembered for. A good name is a blessing–you’re remembered gladly and fondly.
But before we think Solomon is advocating a people-pleasing mentality (which the Bible, including Solomon, soundly refutes), let’s look at some examples of names in the Bible and how this principle plays out.
First, because of sin, there is no “good” name anymore. Not by default. Just like Mom and Dad picking names for us, we can’t help but associate sin and wickedness and impurity and imperfection to anyone anymore. Abraham? Lied about being married to save his own hide. REPEATEDLY. Abraham is not the model husband. Barak is a general, but he wouldn’t go into battle without being led by a woman, even though he was told this would take the glory from him. He’s not exactly the model of courage and faith. Gideon had to have multiple consecutive signs before he believed that Yahweh Himself was with him and would give him victory over enemies. If you’re looking for a good name of faith, Gideon’s not it. Samson is a name that conjures up Philistine prostitutes, long hair, and strength that brought the house down. (Sorry.) RUF minister John Stone described him as a bad boy: not the kind of bad boy that girls fawn over, but the kind of bad boy that terrifies you if he’s in the same state as you. Samson’s not a “good name.” Jephthah is the guy who’s known only because he made a stupid vow that cost the life of his beloved daughter. In almost every reference to her, Rahab is always identified as “the prostitute.” Not exactly the designation daddies hope for their little girls.
The reality of sin means that Jesus–the only sinless one–is the only name, the only remembrance, that’s truly good. Is Solomon setting up an impossible standard here? Yes and no.
The common thread of all these names is these are all gross sinners. Cowards, liars, idiots, whores even. And all of them–by name–are listed in Hebrews 11. The glorious, incredible, unimaginable good of the gospel is that because of Jesus’ good name, our names are redeemed in spite of our sin! The remembrance of these people ceases to be their sin, but instead the gift of faith that saved them!
Not only that, but Jesus even promises more:
Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it…In the same way, the victor will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels…I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God…and My new name (Revelation 2:17; 3:5,12 HCSB)
In glory, we have a new name, because we will be completely new. We have begun the transformation, but when it is complete, we’ll have a new name to go along with it. A new name for
A good name is to be chosen over much wealth. How? By repenting and believing in the Lord Jesus.