Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's In A Name?

My birth name is Randy Alan Donahue. For the first 20 years of my life I was simply “Randy” to everybody, except when I was in big trouble with my mom and she would call me “Randy Alan.” It’s amazing how much identity is tied to our names. It becomes a word that defines who we are. When somebody calls your name, what happens? You respond. It’s your name after all. All of that radically changed for me when I began my career in the plumbing wholesale industry.

Back in 1990 I desperately needed a job. I had a young child, rent, utilities, grocery bills, a car that kept breaking down and not a whole lot of income flipping burgers in a fast food place. I applied for an entry level sales position at a local plumbing wholesaler and made it through all of their testing and initial interview process. As I sat across from the President of the company and the lady who would be my manager, they asked me an interesting question, “We would love to hire you. We already have three other Randy’s working for us. Would you mind going by another name?” The correct answer to that was, “No problem!”

The natural choice was to go by my middle name, Alan. In the plumbing world I became Alan, or as some of the plumbers started calling me, “Big Al.” My wife told me up front, “You’ll always be Randy to me.” To my family and friends both I remained “Randy.” I had to grow accustomed to responding to my new name, and even answering the phone by stating my new name. It felt like I had an alter-ego sometimes, like some sort of mysterious supply house super hero. Over time, I became used to the two names and got pretty good at responding to either one of them.

Things became confusing after I gave my life to Christ and started attending a church where several of my customers went. They knew me as “Alan.” However, at church I was “Randy.” Some people probably thought I had a brother as some folks called me Randy and some called me Alan. The funny thing about it is that the name “Alan” turns on the plumbing oriented side of my personality now, and “Randy” brings out all the other parts of my personality. Maybe it would make more sense like this: Randy is the real me, but when I’m called Alan, it summons up just the salesman / plumbing wholesale side of me. It’s just not my real name, even though I’ve gone by it in my career for 21 years.

I faced a potential change earlier this year when I began working for another plumbing wholesaler. What name would I use? I could go back to Randy if I desired. It was a fresh start. But I had a 20 year old customer base that knew me as Alan. My wife and friends asked me what I was going to do. I gave them the only logical answer: “I’ll stay as Alan.” After all, “Alan” had become my brand in the plumbing wholesale field. I had 20 years of reputation built on that name. I would have been doing a disservice to my new employer if I’d changed back to my first name. They could tell everybody, “Hey, Alan is working for us now” and create a buzz. If they said, “Randy is working for us,” nobody would have known who they were talking about. I’m sure even if I said I wanted to go by Randy, they would have told everybody Alan was working for them.

Ultimately, the question is this: “What’s in a name?” The answer: “A lot.” I was a little sad to hear earlier this year of Campus Crusade for Christ changing their name to CRU in an attempt to appeal to more people. They indicated that had been a longstanding nickname, but removing “Christ” from their official name caused me to whence a little bit. Then I heard that a new task force has been appointed in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to consider a name change. Apparently the term “Southern” may limit our ability to reach people with the gospel. I guess my big questions in light of this and with my personal name changing experience are:

What will the new name be?

How long will it take to be accepted?

Will it build unity or division?

Will it really result in more salvations and church growth?

Will we be called the ____________________, you know, formerly known as the SBC?

I guess my real beef with the whole issue is that if we are seeking ways to strengthen and grow our convention, a name change seems cosmetic at best. Semantics will only get us so far. Real growth will not be driven by something so simple. Whether you call me Randy or Alan, I’m still the same person. In actuality it’s not the name that makes the person, but the person that makes the name. I believe the same will hold true in our convention no matter what the outcome.

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