I can’t tell you how excited I was the first time my granddaughter Eowyn called me Bumpa. Then I discovered that she calls everything Bumpa. She calls a tomato Bumpa. She calls a block of cheese Bumpa. A friend’s grandchild calls him Grandma, and sometimes Grumpy, so I figure I don’t have it so bad.
My mother once told me that she started thinking of my name months before I was born. She wrote it on a slip of paper, tried it out on friends, whispered it to me when I was in the womb. She rocked me and sang songs to me with my name in them. When I was older she even had “Philip” embroidered on a towel for a birthday present.
That’s why it’s amazing to think that half the time when I was growing up she had no idea who I was. She called me by my siblings’ names: Dan, Dave, Tim, Ruth, and sometimes Inky, which was our snarly little Terrier’s name. I’m sure some kids are traumatized by this. I thought it was more fun than a herd of hamsters. Of course I went through a bit of an identity crisis there for a while when she called me Get-In-Here-You-Know-Who-You-Are.
My wife sometimes calls our children by her siblings’ names: Janice, Dennis, LaVerne, Caroline, Miriam, Cynthia. They got used to it in time. “I’m Rachael,” said my daughter once. “Say it with me, Mom. Rachael.” “What did I call you?” asked my wife. “You called me Rex. That was your dog when you were little.” “I always liked Rex,” said Ramona. “He was a good dog.”
I’m comforted to know that there is one who never forgets our names. Listen to these promises from the Bible. In Exodus 33, God says to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.” I like that. In Isaiah 43, the Lord reminds the people of Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.” In Isaiah 49, God asks, “Can a mother forget her own child? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” The older I get, the more I like that.
I never ever doubted that my mom loved me. But remembering names wasn’t her spiritual gift. I asked her once why she couldn’t get my name right and she said, “You’ll understand one day.” And I do now. When my son was small, he had his jammies on inside out one Saturday. I called him Fruit of the Loom for two days.
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