what's in a name (again)

Howdy folks, Jesse here. So i guess this is the post you've been waiting for. The name.

If you've been hanging with us from the beginning then you know that we don't really pick names just because we like the way that they sound, or look, or because a family member or friend happens to have that name too. We like to go back pretty far in our Christian heritage and borrow from the ancient Hebrew naming traditions which regard names as a very real part of who a person is and will become. For the ancient Hebrews, "to be called" and "to be" were thought to be synonymous, and a name was held to be one in the same with the person or object itself. An interesting example of this (a NOT interesting example would be the Prayer of Jabez) is how Jews will render G-d's name like so when written, instead of writing it out. Not only is his name holy and not to be used in vain, but it also is Him in a very real way and you would never want him thrown away, discarded, etc.

So anyway, the meaning of a name was hugely important and would become a sort of prophetic vision for the individual's life. This is a cool thing when your name is Jedidiah (friend of God) or Aden (handsome, adorned), but not so cool when you name is Phesse (lame), Heled-Sepho (fat and bald), or Ichabod (my glory has departed [ouch!]).

So for a little more info about our thoughts on the naming process and for an example of the name/meaning dynamic in action you can check out this old post from right before we decided on Judah's name.

Obviously this isn't our first time on the naming wagon. Before we decided upon Judah's name one of the cool things that God did was lead us to Psalm 112 which talks about the children of the righteous man and we've felt strongly that He wanted us to pull our children's name meanings from that Psalm itself. To check out that whole story and the story of actually deciding on Judah's name, you can go here.

One of the verses from the Psalm that really stuck out to us last time was verse 4.

.4 Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,

for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

We both loved the imagery that the verse evokes, and how powerful and necessary the idea was of "light dawning from darkness". We were almost dead set on Judah actually being called Donovan because it meant "dark warrior" and then finding a middle name that had something to do with light, but, alas, names are funny things. It wasn't until we "saw" Judah on the ultrasound and knew for sure that he was a boy that we really felt a peace about his name.

And if you went back and read the old posts, or you just have a good memory, you'll know that another name that we loved and were considering if Judah was a girl was the name Layla, which means "night" or "dark beauty" in Arabic. Keight has actually loved the name Layla since before we even met, it's been her name of choice for a girl since high school. I, on the other hand, had some reservations.

Now, I know its lame, but the name never really sat right with me because it was Arabic. And I don't mean that in a racist or bigoted way at all, call me old (testament) school, but I just like Hebrew names for some reason. I get that names in English aren't really Hebrew either, but whatever, it is what it is. So the name didn't really work for me right off the bat. And I wasn't sure about the Eric Clapton song...

Anyway, the other day I was spending some time with God in the morning and praying for our little girl, and the name Layla just kept coming into my head over and over again. I tried to tell myself that I didn't like it. I tried to ignore it, but to no avail. The same kind of thing actually happened with Judah, I didn't really like it at first when Keight proposed it, and then it totally grew on me and then cemented itself with some serious divine confirmation.

So I did a little research. And I'm going back and looking at the history of the name and on one site I came across several different spellings of Layla and realized that there was actually a Hebrew variety, Lailah which means "night". In fact, its the literal word for night in Hebrew. Interesting.

Then as I'm looking further down, in the comments section, some random lady had commented on how their child was named Lailah and told a story about the angel Lailah warring with Abraham and 318 trained men against the kings following Kedorlaomer after they had captured his nephew Lot in their rout of Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, I fancy myself a pretty decent student of both the Old and New Testament, and I was pretty sure that was not how the story went in Genesis 14. At least I was sure there was no mention of an angel named Lailah.

And I was right, but I found out through some more study that the story of Lailah the angel she was referring to was actually from the Talmud which is a Jewish rabbinical commentary on the Torah and Jewish Law from around 200 AD (stick with me, now). It's actually a case of the name-equals-the-identity idea I was talking about earlier. The text from the Talmud (in Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 96a. if you feel like looking it up, Mazel Tov!) reads: And he fought against them, he and his servants, by night [lailah] and smote them. R. Johanan said: The angel who was appointed to [aid] Abraham was named lailah [Night].

Nothing like a good smiting in my opinion.

So its totally a case of that "to be called/to be" dynamic going on. The name Lailah takes on this characteristic of the night, and at the same time represents this actual character, the angel of the night Lailah who wars beside Abraham in the dark. It always did seem pretty odd that 4 big kings and all their thugs, who had just conquered two of the more powerful cities of the day, could get their butts kicked by just old Abe and 318 guys. [super]Naturally, they had to have some help.

Now the name was taking on a whole different meaning, and I was definitely liking where it was going, but didn't really want the full image of her name to be one of darkness and night, or a Batgirl type character going all vigilante in the wee hours of night against Gotham's criminal underbelly. So the stage was set for the perfect the middle name to round out the picture.

Another name we both liked a lot was Embry. We just clicked with its uniqueness and the way it looked and sounded. But more importantly we loved the meaning and what the meaning added to her full name. As you might guess it means, like an ember; a smoldering fire. I think I found this name because the picture that goes along with the Psalm 112:4 is the sun breaking forth from the horizon and literally burning through pitch black darkness. So I went on a search for names that meant, fire, burning, light, etc. And we both just fell in love with Embry. (here's hoping she doesn't marry a guy whose last name starts with O because then she'd be lalya embryO).

All of a sudden you have dark beauty, smoldering fire, bad-a angelic warrior who isn't afraid to go into the dark places and bring the light. That's my kinda girl.

You might say, be careful what you wish for, it sounds like she'll be a spitfire, but I honestly couldn't ask for anything else. My prayer is that this little girl lives up wholly to her name, because what this world needs today is a generation who will burn with a deep love for God, and who is willing to take that love, that fire, into the dark places that are most in need of the light with the beautiful fire of his spirit inside them.

Layla Embry. The beautiful burning one who wars in the darkness.

And her initials?

L.E.D. even more light.

Can't wait to meet you , darling.


  1. LOVE the name!! my dad actually wanted to name me Layla because of the eric clapton song...

  2. yay!! i love it!! cant wait to meet her!!!

  3. Love it- beautiful name for a beautiful girl!

  4. Love it love it love it! And love the story as well...and best of all, Madison already knows how to say Layla because she has one in her class :)

  5. it's a beautiful name for what I know is going to be a beautiful girl!! really love it and love the meaning behind it. She is super lucky to have you guys as parents!

  6. Peggy: As Keight's former English teacher (and James Mc's mom), I loved your blog entry on names! Go for it.

  7. haven't read a lick of the post yet, but saw the name and had to tell you asap that i LOVE IT!!!!

  8. LOVE IT! I love the story behind it as well. Thought there for a second you might go with the Lailah spelling, but I LOVE that name and always have! Can't wait to see what the beautiful Layla Embry looks like!

    You guys are so great! Love you!


  9. Beautiful description, Jes. Love her name, and already love her.