What’s in a name? That all depends who’s saying it. My family and closest friends call me “Wen”; colleagues generally go with “Wendy”; students default to “Dr. Widder” (though technically, they shouldn’t…I’m still awaiting the Final Word) or “Professor Widder” (which, technically, should be “Visiting Assistant Professor Widder,” but who’s going to remember what they were saying after all that?) or, charmingly, “Professor Wendy.” A few jokesters call me “Wendilyn,” which is perfectly fine given that my middle name is Lynn, and we’ll leave unsaid the variety of other things some people probably call me.

Sometimes who calls us what can tell us more about them than it does us. (Did you follow all those pronouns?) For example, when a student who has consistently called me “[Insert title here] Widder” starts calling me “Wendy,” I know they consider me more than a professor – I’m a friend. And when a friend is comfortable enough to call me “Wen,” I know they’ve moved into an inner circle. Our “name calling” reflects our perspectives and our relationships.

So when you read biblical narrative, pay attention to who calls whom what; it will likely give you a window into their perspectives and their relationships with other characters. Consider the Hagar narrative in Genesis 16. Aside from the narrator, the first person to dignify her by using her name is God. In the dialogue between Abraham and Sarah, Hagar is never called by her name: she is “my maidservant,” “her,” “my servant,” “she,” and “your servant.” She is property and a pawn in the events that surround her, until God sees her (Gen 16:13, “the One who sees me”) – and calls her by name.

What does this have to do with the book of Daniel? Chapter 1 told us that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah also have Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Aside from chapter 3 (you’ll have to wait on that one), the narrator pretty consistently calls the boys by their Hebrew names. There are a few exceptions, and then you might ask “Why? Is he speaking from someone else’s perspective?” But pay attention, too, when the book’s other characters start name calling, and then ask “What’s in the name and what’s in the name caller?”

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