I remember my first screen name. It was sixth grade, and it was the first time I had access to the internet. My school had formed an internet club (yes, I’m old enough for my school to have had an internet club), and one of our first assignments was to sign up for an email address. With all the creativity I could muster, I claimed firstname.lastname@example.org. It didn’t matter what I intended SDF to stand for, because in every chatroom I was assumed to be a South Dakotan Female, 25 years of age. Not exactly what I was going for.
Another time, I tried to pick a strong name for a character and ended up with Tantor. I knew it sounded familiar. I just didn’t realize it was the name of the hypochondriac elephant on Disney’s Tarzan. Now, I go by NextGen Nerd. “NextGen” refers to my ministry to the next generation, and “Nerd” highlights my deep affection for nerd culture!
Our gamertags or screen names say much about who we are. As a carefully crafted amalgamation of values, characteristics and fandoms, a gamertag can hold great intrinsic value, but this phenomenon goes beyond online aliases—it’s biologically rooted in our birth names as well. Even nicknames that are rooted in a positive memory, a funny story, or an admirable trait are strong markers of our identities.
Neurologists have studied the effects of auditory stimuli and have found that recognizing names lights up the pleasure centers of our brains. We enjoy hearing the sounds of our names. This research is backed up by human behavioral expert Dale Carnegie who said, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
The power of a name is used as a thematic element in literature as well. Aragorn hides his identity to avoid his responsibility to Middle Earth, Rumpelstiltskin’s name frees the miller’s daughter from her contract, and in Ursula K. Le Guin’s book A Wizard of Earthsea, the power of knowing something’s name grants control over that thing. In these books, to know someone’s name is to know them truly. It’s an outward expression of an inward reality.
Around 30 A.D., a man named Simon was given a new name. Simon means “to be heard,” which is fitting given what the Bible shares about Simon’s personality: He was brash, and he was loud. Jesus meets Simon and gives him the nickname Cephas (Latin), Petros (Greek), or Peter (English) which means “Rock”. At first glance, it might seem like Jesus notices Peter’s passion and assumes he is solid in his convictions. However, when pressed to be firm for Jesus, Peter denies him. When he could have supported Jesus, he runs instead. Is Jesus wrong in changing Simon’s name to Peter? Jesus doesn’t call him Peter based on merit or even innate potential, but because Jesus is going to change Peter from the inside out.
After Jesus’ resurrection Peter receives the Holy Spirit, and with boldness he shares the gospel. Now, Peter doesn’t fear prison or even death. He embodies the rock that Jesus knew he would become.
What does your gamertag say about you? I hope it highlights what makes you special and unique. More importantly, who does Jesus say you are? He cares about what you care about. He cares about you! LTN’s CEO, Bubba, says it best: “Jesus loves you nerd!”