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Why do people have names? What is it about names that is so natural, that has stood the test of time?

Names matter. I am convinced that addressing people by name conveys intentionality and demonstrates an understanding of that person’s existence, value, power and uniqueness.

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Part of me hesitates with this blog post. I do not ever want to victimize myself or other women; I also do not desire to extrapolate beyond a situation to infer victimization when in reality it does not exist there. However, I do always wish to communicate how I see women (myself included) operating–or not–within faith communities; I’ve convinced myself that perhaps I can be a part of positive transformation in the simple act of recording my observations. Hence, my decision to proceed with this particular topic.

For the two days prior to this post, I was in a completely new situation (for me). This situation involved two days of meetings with another established organization. The new part (for me) was that I was participating in these meetings as an actual decision-maker and influencer. At least that was my expectation.

It turns out that despite having the position and title of co-directing and co-founding a new non-profit organization, several years of experience working cross-culturally, the ability to communicate well in any number of settings and both undergraduate and graduate degrees, the director of the other organization intentionally addressed me only two times (at most) over the course of 13 hours of meetings. Otherwise, he specifically spoke to my (male) counterpart or spoke generally while directing body language towards my co-worker. There was only one other woman in the room out of eight total and I was certainly the only “Millenial” (born between 1980-1999) there.

Realistically, many of my perceptions about the lack of respect I received from the other director can probably be chalked up to the fact that I am relatively young and that my colleague does have quite a bit more experience than I do. However, the other, much older woman and another man who works for the other organization intentionally included me in their dialogue–often taking the time to say my name specifically and ask my opinion about specific topics of conversation. The difference between their interaction with me and the director’s interaction with me was marked; the one was characterized by a sense of freedom and familiarity, the other by disrespect and self-imposed ignorance.

These two–I’ll call them Jane and John–spoke my name, and in so doing acknowledged not only my existence in the room but also my value; even though I am young, they affirmed my contribution to the conversation by specifically asking me questions and giving honest feedback to my answers.
Jane and John spoke my name and in so doing made room in their professional space for the authority I carry and had brought by virtue of my presence there.

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Almost all people have names, though some cultures for certain spiritual reasons avoid naming their children with full-fledged ‘real’ names to avoid the evil eye or some manifestation of it. Every name is the marker–the stake in the ground, if you will–for that person’s identity. And although names don’t in and of themselves grant value, they do convey value.

It is my belief then that as we call each other by name–men to men, men to women, women to women, women to men–we do not add to the value of that person. But we do create an environment in which that value, that uniqueness, that person is unleashed and empowered to be who God has created her to be.
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Jane and John don’t know it yet, but by saying my name and inviting me into the conversation, they salvaged beauty from disillusionment. Names can be just compilations of symbols attached to sounds, but they are also tools to acknowledge and honor beauty and worth.

What’s your name?

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