“What are we doing with your hair today, Orlando?” said the gum-chewing stylist, scissors poised above my head. She thinks my name is Orlando. Probably because I told her my name is Orlando.
I get my hair cut at a big, busy walk-in salon at a strip mall. Easy-to-please guys like me can usually get in and out in fifteen minutes. Once in awhile I can’t be served immediately, which gives me a chance to browse through the stack of high-brow magazines on hand and find out which celebrities are being targeted for showing up at the beach with too much cellulite (Us Weekly had some particularly cruel and unflattering shots of Barney the Dinosaur in a Speedo on the French Riviera). Soon my name gets called by a desk clerk leaning into a microphone. “Orlando.”
“That’s me!” I say, standing up. You see, I realized a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what my name is at a bustling, quick-turnover hair salon like this. I never seem to get the same stylist twice anyway. So on the occasions I have to wait a little until I’m summoned, I provide a made-up name. Why not? It’s kind of fun. In the past six months I’ve also been announced over the microphone as Spartacus, Lucifer, and Dorito.
In reality, I’m named after a prominent New York City Presbyterian minister from the 1800s, Theodore L. Cuyler (pronounced “Kyler”), whom my father admired. I had mixed feelings about the unusual name Cuyler when I was little. For a brief spell in second grade I told my friends to call me a different name I’d chosen for myself—a name I thought made me sound much more cool and adventurous. “Call me Skippy,” I said. Sadly, this is true.
In the Bible, God sometimes changed people’s names in order to establish for them a new identity. Abram (‘exalted father’) became Abraham (‘father of many’). Sarai (‘princess’) became Sarah (‘mother of nations’). Jacob (‘he deceives’) became Israel (‘he struggles with God’). And Noa (‘he is blessed’) became Noah (‘he dwells inside a sealed-up boat with flatulent hippos’).
As for the New Testament, Jesus gave his disciple Simon a new name tag: Peter, which means ‘rock’. This may have been because Simon was a big, solidly built fisherman. My own theory is that Simon got the name because he was into the rock music of the Rolling Stones, who were launching their career around that time.
I wonder if Abram objected to getting his name changed…
“You are no longer Abram,” God declared. ”From now on you shall be called Abraham.”
“AbraHAM”?! You want I should have a pork product in my name?? That’s not kosher, Lord!”
“Maybe you’d prefer Skippy.”
“Abraham it is then.”
Here are my top two selections of people in the Bible who probably did pray that God would call them something else (you can look these up):
One guy who was a leader of the Israelites had this majestic name: Bunni.
And I wonder if a certain woman who became an early Christian disciple ever forgave her parents for naming her… Dorcas.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you’ve been called; life is about pursuing what you’ve been called to-- that unique identity God has prepared especially for you. Seek that identity and you’ll live life to the full.
That’s the best advice I can offer, or my name isn’t Orlando.