Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Your Secret Name Read-Along, Week 1

Welcome to my first post on the Kary Oberbrunner’s book, Your Secret Name. For the next month and a half (or so), I’ll be writing weekly posts on this book as part of an online read-along at Marla Taviano's blog. So, let's get started ...

In the introduction of the book Your Secret Name, author Kary Oberbrunner tells us that we all play the "Name Game," which he defines as "the unsuccessful cycle of trying to discover our true identity independently of God."

He explains that we have three types of names: a "Birth Name" (the name given to you when you're born), "Given Names" (generally negative adjectives; you can find a list at the Your Secret Name test on the book's website), and a "Secret Name" (the name God has for you; see Rev. 2:17). Birth Names and Given Names, he explains, do not scratch our "identity itch"; instead, "they only fuel it, creating more space between us and our true identity." And that, over time, "these labels become part of our permanent wardrobe. And as we wear them, we end up settling for less than we were born to be."

Next, Oberbrunner (a guy) writes about his lifelong dissatisfaction with his own "girl's name." He discusses our age-old longing for identity, and our human practice of naming other humans. He shows how, in Genesis 3, Adam's first act following the narration of the Fall was to name his wife (when before he had been commanded to name only the animals). Oberbrunner uses this passage to make the case that naming itself is a result of sin. Maintaining that Adam and Eve did not require names when they were in a true relationship with the Father, he explains that, once sin entered the world, names became necessary. And our continued use of names for identity distracts us from our true identity in Christ.

After giving some examples of biblical names and their meanings, he provides a list of "Given Names," which is, I think, the same list found at the Your Secret Name test. These “Given Names” are mostly negative (Depressed, Unbalanced, Abandoned, etc.); the alternative “Secret Names” provided on the website are generally their opposites (Hope, Balanced, Remembered, etc.). Oberbrunner invites his readers to think about which names they have been tagged with over the years, and emphasizes the importance of learning your “Secret Name” (and provides website information in the endnotes).

I think Oberbrunner’s basic message is good: that, if we accept certain labels as our identity, we grow further from seeing ourselves in the way that God sees us, and we, indeed, settle for “less than we were born to be.” I was reading somewhere else that Kirkegaard defines sin as building our identity on something other than God, and Oberbrunner seems to be talking about the same thing.

While my “Given Names” have included Depressed, Unbalanced, and Abandoned in the past, I’m pretty much gotten past them, at least in the sense of having them wholly define me. I also think I'm (mostly) past the habit of embracing various other identities (or “names”) not truly my own, only to find myself the proverbial square peg not fitting into the round hole. At this point in my life, I’m comfortable enough with my square-peggedness that I can (mostly) smile and nod at the round holes of life and be on my way.

But I do still tend to let myself get wrapped up in identities. The difference--and the difficulty--is that these identities are not bad things, and they don’t fit me poorly. In fact, they fit me quite well.

For example, I love teaching and learning, and when I became a high-school English teacher in 2005, the job quickly became my life. I was so wrapped up in the “teacher” identity that I neglected just about every other aspect of my life. I was a good teacher (who wouldn’t be, with that amount of effort?), but my life became so unbalanced that I had to quit after just one year. I loved teaching, but I loved it too much ... and I lost it.

And now that I’m a technical writer, well ... yeah, I tend to do the same thing, even with a career I don’t feel particularly “called” to. Even now, “technical writer” has, in many respects, become my identity—my “name.”

Or did. The birth of my daughter, and my donning the new “name” of Mom, has forced me to look at my whole “career identity” in a new light. I love my daughter, but I don’t want to get wrapped up in the “mom identity” any more than I have in the others. Which is part of why I’ve been pondering the subject addressed by this book.

This brings me to my final observation, and maybe this is a little bit of a criticism of the book: Oberbrunner’s list of “Given Names” is, more or less, a list of negative words. His message is that we adopt these names—or allow these names to adopt us—and thus become even further removed from our true identity in Christ. While that’s certainly true, there is just as much danger, I think, in letting positive (or neutral) "names" get in the way of that true identity.

For instance, if I self-identify as, oh, I don’t know, “depressed,” it’s easy to believe that God sees me as something other than that. But what if I self-identify something that isn’t so blatantly negative? “Gifted and dedicated teacher,” for example? Or "mom"? That can be just as dangerous—more dangerous, in fact, since a positive "Given Name" is both more socially acceptable and less obviously contrary to what an identity in Christ would be. I wish Oberbrunner had addressed this (and perhaps he will later in the book).

I have some other criticisms—I must admit, there are several aspects of this book that aren’t “sitting right” with me—but it would be unfair for me to post them now, when I’m only two chapters in. So I’ll hold off. As I read further, my impressions could very well change.

Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll write my summary, thoughts, and observations on chapters 3 and 4 of Your Secret Name. If you’d like to read others’ reactions to the first couple of chapters, you can find them at Marla’s blog.


  1. Love this post, Nina (especially the second half). You make an excellent point about the "positive" Given Names. And honestly, my struggle is more with those than anything.

    I think you're wise to hold off on criticism until you read more, and I'm definitely interested in what you have to say. I had a lot of question mark moments while reading through it too.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. The only problem with reading other blogger's book reviews is that then I want to run out and get the book so I can read it too. What a great review of the first two chapters. I've never thought about names in quite this way before. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the next two chapters.