Do you know the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? From the book of Daniel in the Bible? They were three Jewish youths taken in exile from Israel to Babylon. They refused to bow before the Babylonian idol, were thrown into a furnace, but were rescued by God.
But what strikes me is how they are named. According to Daniel 1, their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The names Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego were their slave names, given to them by their Babylonian masters. Daniel was given the name Belteshazzar, but that name wasn’t used in the book. Yet Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah are called by their slave names in their story. I wonder why the writer chose to use those names.
This business of names reminds me of my grandfather. My grandfather was alive when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. He remembers a time when Japan forbid anyone from speaking the Korean language and encouraged Koreans to adopt Japanese names. Imagine your name, rich with the history of your family, wiped out and replaced by an alien name by the impositions of a foreign state.
And I wonder how this same story is playing out today. In what ways are people’s stories getting changed by someone else? In what ways are people’s names, histories, or ideas becoming twisted to suit another person’s goals?
For my own part, when I refer to this story from the Bible, I would prefer to remember the names of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, not their slave names. To remember them as they were remembered by their families, not their oppressors. And in so doing, to remember that each of us are more than the stories that others tell about us.