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Why Do Parents Call Their Children Bad Names?

“Monday’s child is fair of face.  Tuesday’s child is full of grace. Wednesday’s child is …”  Do you remember the next part?  If you were born on Wednesday, perhaps you do.  ”Wednesday’s child is full of woe.”  And so on goes the little poem that most people have heard at least once.  That rhyme carries little real weight in our culture, but it carries an even more important message.  Names and stereotypes really do matter.
I know someone whom we’ll call Brett (not his real name) who was raised by an abusive father.  As he grew up, he consistently was told that he was stupid, worthless, a retard and other vile names.  Hurt and confused, Brett began trying to find relief from pain in drugs and alcohol as a young teenager.  This, of course, brought more abuse on him from his father who characterized him as a failure.  Brett was so depressed, hurt and lonely that he planned to take his own life with an overdose.  Instead of dying, he began to call out to God for help.  The effect of the drugs left him, and he left the place where he was going to end it all with an impression that God must be real.
It was the beginning of a long journey.  He began to get to know more about Jesus Christ, and God began to speak to him in ways that he could hear and understand.  But the pain of his father’s rejection and name-calling was still there.  As he moved into the college age, he sought relief through excessive exercise.  He honed his body and was a regular fitness nut when fitness nuts weren’t cool.  But the pain was still there.  His marriage to an abusive wife probably resulted from a fatal attraction to someone like his father because he had never been healed from that pain.  Whatever the cause, he suffered verbal and physical abuse for almost two decades from the one who had pledged to be a helpmate for the rest of his life.  Then she divorced him.  His father added the icing on the cake by telling Brett that he was the failure.
Brett reminds me of some of the animals I’ve seen in my lifetime who were very obviously abused.  They walk with their spine curved up, their head down, and their tail between their legs.  They don’t look at you hardly at all.  I hate seeing animals who are mistreated.  But even more, I really hate seeing human beings who are mistreated.  We are, after all, created in the image of God.
We’ve all spoken harsh words (for which we will give an account to God).  But as parents, what are the NAMES that we call our children?  What are these labels we put on them which stick tighter than glue and bond better than duct tape to the soul?  I’ve heard all kinds my whole life.  I’ve heard the standard “Fatty,” “Skinny,” “Bones,” “Lefty,” “Loudmouth,” and some harsher names used by parents to describe their children.  How about the names that we give to them in the form of questions, “Are you Stupid?”  ”What are you, some kind of idiot?”  ”How could you be So Dumb?”  ”Do you want to get As Big as an Elephant?”  Why ask the questions in a way which stick the label on the child?
I’ve heard good names given to children like, “Special Boy,” “Princess,” “Daddy’s Girl,” “Daddy’s Big Helper,” “Bright,” “Brilliant,” “Genius,” “Beautiful” and many other encouraging names.  Do we have to take a vote to see how many of our children would rather trade what they are being called for names like these?
“But I’m only joking!” I can hear someone say.  Hmm.  Remember that poem at the beginning?  A study by G. Jahoda done among the Ashanti tribe in Africa has some interesting results.  In this tribe, children born on the “bad” days and “good” days not only know the cultural saying, but they are actually GIVEN that day as one of their names.  Jahoda found that among those boys born on bad days and given that day as part of their name, they were more likely to be offenders, and they were responsible for a very high percentage of violent offenses.  Meanwhile, the children born on “good” days and given that as part of their name were way lower in the percentages.  His conclusion was that the day of the week they were born on mattered little.  What mattered was that over and over throughout their lives, these children kept hearing their name of “Failure” and “Woe” being repeated every time they missed the mark.  The cumulative effect was that the children simply began to live up to their culture’s expectations of them:  failures.
Coincidence?  Hardly.  Proverbs 22:1 says that “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”  Yes, I know that this does speak of the reputation that a person builds up, but he does use the word “name.”  Some of you adults reading this probably are thinking of how much you would trade to go back and have a different set of names from the ones your parents, siblings or classmates called you when you were growing up.  When twins were born to Rebekah, one was holding onto the other’s foot.  He was named “Supplanter” (or Jacob).  All his life, he heard, “Supplanter.”  In effect, he was told, “You’re someone who wants to be someone else.”  How did he act?  Exactly as he had been named.  He stole his brother’s blessing, cheated him out of his birthright and worked his father-in-law out of his flocks and herds.  He was not well-liked.  When God wrestled with him, he changed his name to Israel which means “prince of God.”  Wow.  No one had ever called him something that wonderful before!
In the New Testament we find a wishy-washy fisherman who couldn’t control his temper or his mouth.  His name was changed to Peter, a rock, a solid person who can withstand the tests of time.  Although he had a tough road ahead of him, Peter became that rock over time.
There’s a chance that someone reading this will be feeling a lot of pain right now.  You were called plenty of these awful names as a child.  You’re an adult now, and the pain still burns in you.  What can you do?
Or you may be caught in a web of anger that you are taking out on your children or your own spouse.  You’ve called them the most hurtful, damaging things you can think of because of the problems you have in your own heart and mind.  What can you do?
There is only one person I know of who 100% guaranteed can help you.  His name is Jesus.  He is real.  He exists.  He cares.  He takes people who are wishy-washy and makes them a rock.  He takes conniving manipulators and makes them a prince of God.  He takes hate-filled torturers and changes them into people who give their lives to share good news with the lowest of the low.  If you call out to Him, He will answer.  How do I know this?  His name means “He saves!”
As a parent, take a few moments to examine the names which roll off your tongue to your children.  If you don’t have any encouraging nicknames, make some up today.  Drop them like seeds and water on the hearts and minds of your children.  And watch them grow into good things over a lifetime of blessing.

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