I was perusing the Internet recently and ran across a story concerning the launching of a new submarine. I always found it fascinating that the word, “christening,” is used for such events. The particular sub in question was named the Colorado. It’s apparently the fourth U.S. Navy ship to be named after a state.
The first dictionary definition of the term, christening, goes something like this: “give (a baby) a Christian name at baptism as a sign of admission to a Christian Church.” I’m not sure how we got from giving babies Christian names at baptism to naming ships, but I suspect it was an interesting journey. We don’t baptize ships (unless breaking a bottle of champagne across her bow counts). There may have been a time when we gave boats Christian names, but that practice seems to be long gone.
I remember several years ago when peace groups were protesting the name of a new nuclear submarine. The stink was over the fact that such a destructive weapon of war should be given a peaceful, Christian name like Corpus Christi (Latin for the Body of Christ). I understood the complaint, but it missed the point somehow. This particular sub was part of a group being named after cities in the U.S. The Navy was honoring Corpus Christi, Texas and not Jesus. Nevertheless, it caused quite a stir.
I baptize thee…
The funny thing about all this is the original use of the word, christening. It’s all but defunct in the Christian world—at least in the circles I travel. No one waits until the baptism to name their child anymore. When they do name them, it’s seldom with what we used to refer to as a “Christian name.” I can’t remember the last time I heard christening used in conjunction with a human being. It seems to have been relegated to ships, cars, and bedrooms.
Before Jesus left this earth, he instructed us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19) What he failed to mention was they should be given Christian names when they were baptized. Of course (if you think about it), there was no such thing as a Christian name in those days. I suppose the name, Jesus, was the closest thing to it.
My child rearing days are long past (at least, I hope they are). But, if I were to have another child, I think I would lobby for the first name of Murgatroyd (as in, “heavens to…”). I’ve heard it used as a surname, but never as a first name. It has such a great ring, don’t you think?
On the other hand, if I was baptizing an infant and the parents told me the child’s name was to be Murgatroyd, I think I might laugh out loud. Maybe I should switch over to Colorado as my choice. Or maybe I just shouldn’t have any more kids.
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]