July 7, 2017

Who Do You Think You Are?


As of yesterday, and continuing through August 31, the makers of Crayola® are offering a runoff among five finalists for the names of a new color of blue to be included in their boxes of crayons later this year. This new hue is based on the accidental discovery in 2009 of a previously unidentified pigment of blue by scientists at Oregon State University. It may be a bit comforting to know that the mission of the research project was not merely the quest for a new color. The team was actually looking for a way to make new materials that could be utilized for electronics.[1]

When one of the grad students, Andrew Smith, noticed that material he was working with was an unusually brilliant blue color, he showed it to Mas Subramanian, professor of materials science. Somehow Subramanian recognized right then and there that this was something unique. “People have been looking,” he told an NPR interviewer, “for a good, durable blue color for a couple of centuries.”

Who knew?

Well, apparently Subramanian knew. And, though the breakthrough has been inexplicably overlooked by the Nobel Committee ever since, it has caught the attention of other entities. Naturally, as the Crayola company is in the business of color, it has taken up the baton.

On March 31, 2017, National Crayon Day, the Crayola company announced at a special event in Times Square, New York city, the retirement of its color in the yellow family, “Dandelion,” to make room for a new member in the blue family.[2] While the color Dandelion is taking a retirement lap in events around the country, the company invited suggestions for the new name. It received 90,000 entries.

Scientists at Oregon State who discovered it named it “YInMn blue” for its chemical makeup of yttrium, indium, and manganese oxides, but how is a kid—or anyone—going to pronounce that on the side of a crayon? “Hey, hand me the ‘YInMn Blue’”!

So, from the thousands of entries, the company has narrowed the list to five: “Dreams Come Blue,” “Bluetiful,” “Blue Moon Bliss,” “Reach for the Stars” and “Star-spangled Blue.”

One may wonder whatever happened to “true blue.”

Sam, Joe, and Otto

The choice of a name for a new product undergoes careful study for marketers today. It’s also an important consideration in the naming of a newborn child. Popular given names for children often reflect current celebrities or characters in film.

My father-in-law was born and grew up in St. Louis, where he enlisted shortly before World War II in the U. S. Coast Guard. Of the many amusing stories he used to tell in later life, one of them is simply an account of his very own name.

How is a kid—or anyone—going to pronounce that on the side of a crayon? “Hey, hand me the ‘YInMn Blue’”!

As he grew up, his sisters called him “Sam,” and his mother called him “Stanley.” His given name at birth was “Otto,” after his father. He didn’t ever mention in my memory by what name his father called him, but given his mischievous nature, it was likely sometimes colorful.

After he enlisted in the Coast Guard, there was another sailor of higher rank named Otto in his first company assignment, so the commanding officer dubbed my father-in-law “Joe” to avoid confusion. This name followed him through the rest of his 20 years in the service. Even his wife, who first met him early in his stint in the military, always called him “Joe.” If anyone may have ever had good reason for a crisis over sense of identity, it was he. But anyone who knew Otto Gibbs very well could see plainly that he always knew exactly who he was.

Different Name, Different Character

Any reader of Scripture will sometimes notice that given names of individuals of the time was of more than casual importance. In the patriarchal period alone, God Himself renamed Abram, Sarai, and their grandson Jacob. In each case, this appeared to be more than mere divine impulse. Their new names, “Abraham,” “Sarah,” and “Israel,” were introduced to them as an indication that their character and their lives were to communicate a God-sent message with prophetic implications.

“‘No longer will you be called Abram;’” God declared, “‘your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations’” (Gen. 17:5, NIV). In His covenant with the new Abraham, He also designated a new name for his wife: “‘As for Sarai your wife,’” God said, “‘you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. . . . She will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her’” (verses 15, 16, NIV).

Clearly, these two newly named servants of God must have had a sense of humor. Both of them, when they first heard of God’s promise, laughed outright. Facebook: “LOL!” But it wasn’t as if they found the change of names humorous. It was the meaning behind those new names. At 100 and 90 years of age, respectively, this new Abraham and Sarah could not conceive, so to speak, of how they would ever live up to the meanings of their new names. Surely God Himself may have smiled a bit as well.

Then, two generations later, with God’s promise clearly underway to Abraham and Sarah to make of them great nations, their grandson, Jacob, was locked on a mountaintop in a grim physical struggle with an angel of God that led to his new name. There was not the slightest hint of humor in this encounter. “‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,’” the angel said, “‘because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome’” (32:28, NIV).

“Through humiliation, repentance, and self-surrender,” wrote Ellen White, “this sinful, erring mortal prevailed with the Majesty of heaven.[3] From the meaning of his previous name, “supplanter,” he had been renamed “overcomer.” “Jacob’s new name . . . marks a significant change: the deceiver has become the overcomer and can now provide the right name for the covenant nation. Name-giving is indicative of the power of the opponent.”[4] The magnitude of the event affected the direction of the new Israel’s life from that point on and impacted the destiny of future generations.

In each of these Old Testament cases, it must be assumed that a new name must have surely brought about a new sense of self. Though they may have yet coped in various ways with the effects of their sinful natures, certainly made yet more human mistakes in years thereafter, at each hearing of their new names, they must have surely asked of themselves, “Who do you think you are?”

The Ultimate Question

Asked of oneself, the response to this question, “Who do you think you are?” is one of the most profound that each human being may face in life.

It appears that names will remain an important part in the lives of followers of God right up to the end of the great controversy—and beyond. Through John the Revelator, Christ proclaims, “‘Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. . . . I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name’” (Rev. 3:12, NIV).

William Barclay reminds readers of Revelation that Jewish rabbis referred to Abraham, the renamed, as the pillar of the world.[5] Those who remain resolute till Christ returns—those who are “true blue”—will be pillars in the temple of the people of God until He comes. A pillar connotes strength and steadfastness. And when He comes, they will also receive a new name. This time it will not be a name that sets them apart from others around them. There will be no trace of the individualism to which it is natural for humans to aspire to in a world of sin. With the eradication at last of sin, the new name that will be written on those saved will reflect their oneness in Christ.

There will be no more “Who do you think you are?” It will be “Who do we know we are?”

Gary B. Swanson is editor of Perspective Digest, an online publication of the Adventist Theological Society.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2016/07/16/485696248/a-chemist-accidentally-creates-a-new-blue-then-what

[2] file:///C:/Users/Gary/Downloads/CrayolaNationalCrayonDayPressReleaseKW330FINALBLUE.pdf

[3] Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 197.

[4] Marginal note on Genesis 32:28, Andrews Study Bible (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 2010), p. 48.

[5] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), vol. 1, p. 134.