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Jesus visits the British Isles: On the naming of our children

Will it be a biblical name?

It’s a question Tamie and I were often asked in the lead up to the birth of our two children.

As Christians, we treasure the Bible as our story and its people as our people. Yet as white Aussies, our points of connection with the Semitic and Greco-Roman origins of the Bible are pretty abstract. To me, choosing a baby name because it was in the Bible felt like skipping over land and culture and my own body.

Living in Tanzania, we are often asked about what tribe we come from, and what tribes Australia has. Along with testing our ideas about Australian identity, this got me thinking more about my genealogy. The question of where I come from is also a question about where my body comes from. It’s a question that sends my mind spinning into big history and geologic timescales and haplogroups. I wonder which of these 17 genetic clusters my line goes back through?

In the beginning, Elliot and Callum were names we simply liked the sound of, but they each have deeper depths to be plumbed and meanings to be fleshed out. Both are names from the British Isles, and both have Christian threads woven through them, even if ambiguous or lost to time. Elliot is a name with multiple and overlapping points of origin, and in one form it is said to be a rendition of Elijah, ‘Yahweh is God’. Callum is associated with Columba, an ancient Irish missionary to Scotland, and means dove.

For us to use these names is for us to own to our genes both physically and metaphysically. Tamie and I are generically and ambivalently white. When it comes to kin, clan, and lineage, we don’t quite know where we’re from. But God knows. And this God has also adopted us into a new family and story — which is a very good reason why many Christians do choose baby names straight out of the Bible. Yet our new family is not vacuum-sealed. We do not leave our context behind, even while Jesus might call us beyond it.

In the twisty-turny history of white people, these two names tell us that someone has been here before us. His Spirit came even to white people, and left his mark.

Image: Kilnave cross, Isle of Islay

Categories: Uncategorized Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

5 replies

  1. In our case each of our kids do have a biblical name … in a way. Sean is Celtic John, Jack is the English nickname for John, Jonah sounds like John though meaning dove in hebrew, and Siobhan is Celtic for Joanna. Why the John theme? It was an accident at first but we warmed to it because John means “the Lord is gracious”, a truth which our children’s (and our) lives are examples of. We are more interested in the meaning rather than the name itself. Their middle names all point back to their predecessors: Ian from my paternal grandfather, McKay from my maternal grandfather, Begbie from my mother’s ancestors and Jenny from Jo’s mum (coincidentally both Ian and Jenny are also derived from John).

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