Most of my friends and family members know me by my English middle name, Louie. However, for the past sixth months, I’ve been transitioning to primarily using my Japanese first name, Aogu. I’d actually wanted to make this change for several years now.
I first conceived this desire when I started feeling more and more certain that God wanted me to become a missionary in Japan. I felt that, as I would be ministering mostly to Japanese people, it was somehow fitting for me to begin using my Japanese name.
I think there is a Biblical precedent for this kind of thing in Chapter 13 of the book of Acts: in this chapter, the apostle hitherto referred to as Saul, begins to be referred to by his Roman name, Paul. This change in the name by which the author, Luke, refers to the apostle coincides in the narrative of the book of Acts with the beginning of the apostle’s ministry to the Gentiles. It seems natural then to assume that Luke begins using the name Paul at this stage in his narrative for the simple reason that the apostle himself began using his Roman name at this stage of his life, namely, when he began ministering in a primarily Greco-Roman context.
This would be in keeping with what we know about Paul’s evangelistic strategy of contextualization. In bringing the gospel to different people groups, Paul always sought to remove any cultural obstacles that he could by presenting his message in ways that were intelligible to his different audiences. For example, in preaching the gospel to Jews, he referred back to the prophecies of the Tanakh (Acts 13:32-35) but in preaching the gospel to Greeks, he quoted the Cretan seer Epimenides and the Cilician poet Aratus (Acts 17:28).
But Paul didn’t stop at merely contextualizing his message—he actually contextualized himself. That is, he placed himself in and allowed—insofar as it was not contradictory to God’s will—the cultures he was seeking to reach to influence his behavior and shape the way in which he presented himself to others. He describes his strategy of personal contextualization in this way:
“To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel.”
(1 Corinthians 9:20-23 ESV)
In other words, Paul had surrendered his right to freedom and was willing to modify his behavior and cultural self-expression if by doing so he could reach others with the gospel.
I think Paul’s choosing to go by his Roman name is emblematic of this attitude. Paul’s Jewish name, Saul, was a badge of cultural pride if there ever was one—it was shared with the first King of Israel who, like the apostle, was from the tribe of Benjamin—but he was willing to set it aside for the sake of identifying himself with the Gentile culture he was seeking to reach. This is, I think, an attitude worth emulating.
And this was why, though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it well at the time, I first started wanting to go by my Japanese name, Aogu. There is now, however, another important reason that I am seeking to make this transition—one having to do with the prophetic significance of a name to call out a person’s identity. I will cover this topic in my next blog post, Why I Would Like You to Call Me Aogu: Part Two.
Thanks for reading!