Dr Mark Dickson, GWC Principal, Biblical Hebrew, Philosophy
BSc (Major: Physics)(UCT), Dip Th (BISA), MA (NWU)
What does your name mean? We all know those internet amusements where you submit your name. Then a page opens up, and to your amazement, it lists all the characteristics and personality traits you most admire in yourself or wish you actually had. One small click shares this to Facebook, and all your friends dutifully add their likes, in between a story about a man walking a tightrope over a volcano and notification of the latest country to receive its first famed bearer of the coronavirus.
Consider the name Telemachus. An apt name you might think for someone who makes endless phone calls and spends each day over and over again trying to sell insurance in the five-second distance between the words ‘hello’ and ‘I’m not interested’. But Telemachus predates telephony and is quite an ancient name. There have been quite a few Telemachuses, starting with the first one who appears in Greek mythology. Someone called Homer wrote about him in a book called the Odyssey. Since then all sorts of musicians and authors have dropped that name hoping to show that they know something.
The Telemachus that I wish to talk about lived around about AD 400. He was a Christian and knew that God took a dim view of Roman entertainment and sports. Not that God is against entertainment mind you, but Telemachus was sure that watching real people kill real people as a spectator sport was somewhat unacceptable. He certainly was a man of courage. He pushed his way through the crowds in the stadium, jumped into the dusty arena and ran over to some gladiators cutting each other up and shouted to them to stop. Some say that one of the gladiators attacked him with a sword killing him. Others say that the spectators threw stones mortally wounding him. Probably both happened.
But something peculiar followed that act of bravery. There were no more gladiator sports in Rome ever again. Not ever. The Roman emperor Honorius abolished the sport of men, killing men for entertainment soon after.
Telemachus is a name that combines two Greek words. There is the word ‘tele’ which means ‘far’ (as in telescope or telephone) and the word ‘machus’ which means fight or battle. Homer’s hero Telemachus was so named probably as a reference to his father who went off to fight in distant wars, and as he grew up, he went in search of his father. Our man Telemachus who halted the Roman gladiators came from far away in the East and died on a foreign battleground so to speak. Perhaps his parents named him in the hope that he would seek the Father of all fathers.
What could your name mean if God took hold of you? The name ‘Chris’ is short for Christopher, which literally means carrying Christ and probably refers to telling everyone the good news that Jesus has made a way back to God. The name ‘Ivan’ is the Russian form of ‘John’, which became Ian in Ireland and means God is gracious. God himself ordered that specific name to be given to John the Baptist, who paved the way for Jesus. The Zulu name ‘Sihle’ means ‘mercy’ and under God could reach a peak in conveying the message that our sins are forgiven by Christ alone. The Xhosa name ‘Sumeya’ points to never doubting God.
What could your name mean?