I recently attended a baby dedication ceremony in support of my cousin and his wife (their daughter is my goddaughter). There were about ten parents dedicating their baby that day, and a lot of family and friends there to witness it.
The presiding minister began the service with prayer before calling each parent to the altar with their bouncy, sleepy or cranky babies. Before he prayed for each baby, he shared his or her name with the audience and explained what it meant. There was Zachary, which means “remembered by God”; there was Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”; And there was my goddaughter, Vitani which means “I am war.”
Since her name is not biblical, he prayed that she would grow up waging war against the enemy of her soul for the sake of the church.
It was clear to me that the minister had done his research on all of the babies’ names so that he would have some guidance in what to pray for regarding their unique journeys.
I thought to myself, what would he have done if he had to present a baby with a name like mines. Ifonia is not your typical Greek, Hebrew, English, Spanish or French name. I’ve done my research. My name cannot be found anywhere.
From my understanding, you will find a few women in Haiti (where my parents are from) with my name, but Haitian parents typically opt for names like Marie, Claudette, Fabiola and Natalie for girls. So not only is my name not popular in America; it’s not even widespread in Haiti.
Ever the one to want to fit in, I hated my name. From elementary to college — you’d think adults would have a clue — I got picked on daily because of it. My teachers could not pronounce it and my peers could not accept it. It got worse in my early adult years.
People would ask, “what does it mean?”
“I don’t know” I would reply.
Sometimes I wondered why God did not prompt my parents into giving me a familiar name like they had given my siblings, Eddy and Lola. Not just a familiar name, but a name with meaning (because I am deep like that).
Once, a man from Venezuela asked me if I knew what my name meant. I told him it did not have a meaning. He told me I was wrong and that my name meant “beautiful bird.” I looked this up and could not find any piece of information online (Google to be precise) to back his claim.
What I did discover is that the last three letters of my name spell, “Nia,” which means “purpose” in Swahili and “brightness; radiance” in Welsh.
For the first time, I felt like I belonged in the world of people with typical names (with meanings). But the ego boost was short-lived when I realized that my name still fell short, literally, because I could not find a meaning for “Ifo.”
I think my need to fit in had a lot to do with years of never belonging to a particular group. I was never part of the popular crowd, the geek club or the talented/athletic bunch. It was the same when I began my career. I had nothing in common with the mothers in the office, nor the party-goers, smokers or happy hour devotees. I managed to stick out as the church girl without once being preachy or acting self-righteous.
At some point I accepted my fate (or calling) as the outcast. I’ve learned that God has called and set us apart as the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” It is His desire that we do not conform to the patterns of this world.
In the Bible, when God chose someone, He often gave them a new name. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul, after each had an encounter with Him.
He has even promised to change ours.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. ” Revelation 2:17
With that being said, I am proud to say that I have accepted my name, calling and destiny no matter how far apart they set me from the world.