Not too long ago I was riding with two of my young daughters home from the hospital after a visit there. We had gone to see a bright new bundle of baby joy that we had recently added to the family. These two little girls seemed to be enjoying the chance to spend some time with Dad. After we got into the car and began our drive home, we had an interesting little conversation.
One of my daughters, who is five, began teasing me and making funny comments. I waved wildly at a mosquito flying around the car and so she said, “You’re being a Bug Smasher!” I teased her back a little bit. Pretty soon she was bantering back and forth with me and saying things like, “You’re a Bug Smasher! You’re a Funny Monkey! You’re a Fogey Dogey.”
At this point my three-year old daughter intervened and quite forcefully said to her older sister, “He is NOT a Bug Smasher or a Fogey Dogey! He’s a DADDY!”
We laughed together and I was grateful to have been restored from my dropping status as a “fogey dogey” (I’m not sure quite yet what this is) to being a daddy. But this little interchange made me think and put me on the road to pondering the simple question of who we are and who our children expect us to be. My little three-year old girl may not have known exactly what I was suggested to be by her sister, but she knew and insisted clearly what she expected me to be. A Daddy.
She calls me “Daddy.” She knows and understands me as “Daddy.” “Daddy” is the name by which she identifies me and expects me to respond to the expectations associated with that name, such as getting her a glass of milk each morning when she wakes up. She associates certain expectations with that name.
Each of us carries a name which identifies who we are to others. There may often be images, reputations, or expectations associated with the name that you carry. In particular, a family name can develop a symbolic power which conveys deep meaning. Your family name may be associated with honesty, generosity, or hard work in positive ways, or it may be associated with disloyalty or carelessness in negative ways. It is interesting that, even at three years old, my daughter expects me to respond to the power of the name she associates with me and her expectations of me as one who bears that name.
What does it mean to honor the family name you have received? What does it mean to bring honor to your family name? I would hope that we each might aspire to do honor to our family name if we have been given an honorable legacy, or to bring honor to our family name if it deserves greater honor. There is great power in a good name.
“A Good Name is Rather to be Chosen”
I experienced in a dramatic way the power of a good name when I was completing my final years of high school. I attended Orem High School in Orem, Utah, and there as I completed my junior year my brother encouraged me to try out for the A Cappella Choir. He had sung in the choir and loved his experience in learning music in that program. The A Cappella Choir was legendary at my school and in the community as a fine program under the direction of a gifted and caring man, J. Preston Woolf. I tried out for the program, was accepted, and began to learn the procedures of choral singing.
J. Preston Woolf, our choral instructor and director of the A Cappella Choir, was a deeply spiritual and sincere individual. He taught us with grace and some sternness at times. He believed that in music there was a divine message to lift our souls and spread peace and joy, but that this message could only be unlocked in its power through diligence, effort, unity, and sincerity of purpose. I am sure that, many times, we tried his patience as he endeavored to lift our eyes and minds to a higher vision of music. He chose music that was deeply spiritual and we practiced hard to be able to convey the messages within the songs that he chose for us.
One of the highlights of my own life, spiritually, was singing in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City during my senior year. We held one of our public concerts there and were uplifted not only by the surroundings and the season, but by the spiritual power and energy that attended this performance. Our beloved conductor and teacher, Mr. Woolf, had struggled to prepare us and also fought his own ongoing struggle, a battle with cancer which would ultimately take his life. It is one of the few occasions in my life when I heard angelic choirs accompany a musical performance, and I knew that this gift was due to the spiritual preparation that our teacher, Mr. Woolf, had given in sacrificing himself so that we might be ready to sing in worship and praise in that sacred place.
Many months later I found myself in another hall of assembly, this time in downtown Provo, Utah, in the beautiful Provo Tabernacle. This is where the funeral of my teacher and our beloved choir director, J. Preston Woolf, was to be held. The spiritual dimensions of that occasion still are fresh in my mind. Honor was paid to a man who had lived his life with great faith, courage, and love, and who had enriched the lives of literally thousands of students who had sung in his choirs. There came to my mind the words of a scripture in the Old Testament, which had been set to music and sung in his honor at special concert some months before.
Proverbs 22:1 reads:
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
A good name. This man had chosen a good name over great riches, and with his gifted hands had chosen to teach, to guide, to lift with the gift of music. My appreciation and love for music was vastly magnified and has never been the same since he accepted me into his class. I am sure that the same holds true for hundreds of other students whose lives he touched.
The Provo Tabernacle filled with those who knew and loved Mr. Woolf and wished to honor him at his funeral, and it could be easily seen that here was a man who was held in loving favour by those who knew him.
Here was a man who had brought honor to his family name and now was honored by those loved and appreciated him because he had chosen a good name rather than silver and gold.
“I Will Honor That Name”
As a boy, there was a saying that hung in a frame on the wall of my room growing up. It was a framed text that my mother had prepared and given to each of the children in our family as a gift. Its message was simple. It stated:
“I am a Brotherson, and I will honor that name.”
That message made a deep impression upon my mind as a young boy and it has never diminished. I have found on many occasions, traveling or working or thinking, that out of the recesses of my mind and memory will come the firm reminder: “I am a Brotherson, and I will honor that name.” That message has stayed with me.
I wonder whether some day I may have to account to those who have gone before me as to whether I have honored the name which they bestowed upon me through my family heritage. Will I be able to say with confidence that I have endeavored to live with honor? Will I be able to tell them that I have honored their memories and legacies? Will I be able to show them how my life has brought honor to the name which they bequeathed to me?
“What Have You Done With My Name?”
I recently re-read the moving account of George Albert Smith, apostle and prophet, of his own encounter with the question of honoring his family name. He was taken ill and had gone to St. George in hopes of rest and restoration to health. During that time, he had the following spiritual experience which he later related:
“A number of years ago I was seriously ill. . . . With my family I went to St. George, Utah, to see if it would improve my health. . . .
“In St. George …. I became so weak as to be scarcely able to move. It was a slow and exhausting effort for me even to turn over in bed.
“One day, under these conditions, I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. I found myself standing with my back to a large and beautiful lake, facing a great forest of trees. There was no one in sight …. I realized, or seemed to realize, that I had finished my work in mortality and had gone home. . . .
“I began to explore, and soon I found a trail through the woods which seemed to have been used very little, and which was almost obscured by grass. I followed this trail, and after I had walked for some time and had traveled a considerable distance through the forest, I saw a man coming towards me. I became aware that he was a very large man, and I hurried my steps to reach him, because I recognized him as my grandfather. . . . I remember how happy I was to see him coming. I had been given his name and had always been proud of it.
“When Grandfather came within a few feet of me, he stopped. His stopping was an invitation for me to stop. Then . . . he looked at me very earnestly and said:
“‘I would like to know what you have done with my name.’
“Everything I had ever done passed before me as though it were a flying picture on a screen–everything I had done. Quickly this vivid retrospect came down to the very time I was standing there. My whole life had passed before me. I smiled and looked at my grandfather and said:
“‘I have never done anything with your name of which you need be ashamed.’
“He stepped forward and took me in his arms, and as he did so, I became conscious again of my earthly surroundings. My pillow was as wet as though water had been poured on it-wet with tears of gratitude that I could answer unashamed.
“. . . Honor your fathers and your mothers. Honor the names that you bear, because some day you will have the privilege and the obligation of reporting to them (and to your Father in heaven) what you have done with their name.” (“Your Good Name,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1947, p. 139)
I would suggest that the response which President George Albert Smith gave to his own grandfather is a good barometer by which to assess our own efforts to honor our family names. Can we say to those who have gone before us or to those who will come after us that we are living in such a way that they need not be ashamed to also carry our name?
In family life, this is a question which may make us pause and take notice of our attitudes and behavior. As a parent, stop and consider whether the way you are treating a child when he or she misbehaves is something that would make you ashamed if reported to your forebears. As a husband or wife, stop and think about whether your attitude or behavior in your marriage relationship is something that, if your children were aware of it some day, they would look back at you and feel proud or ashamed.
Live Worthy of a Good Name
God has placed us upon the earth to work out our salvation as we seek to develop a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it is His name, the name of the Savior Jesus Christ that we wish to associate ourselves with and honor in our lives. The power of having His name placed upon us and honoring that name is eternal, for it leads us toward salvation. In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin teaches his people:
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
“And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
“And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God; for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.” (Mosiah 5:7-9; emphasis added)
The blessing of a good name is only passed down through successive generations in family life as we honor the family names that we have received. I must count among the greatest blessings of my life the good names that have come down to me from my forebears. There is a kinship in family life that comes with knowing those who not only share your family name, but who also honor it.
I once met a leader in the Church who took notice of my family name and then quickly asked if I was related to my paternal grandfather. I acknowledged my relationship as his grandson, and then was pleased to feel that leader’s love and appreciation for my own grandfather. This leader in the church did not know me. And yet, he knew of the good name that my grandfather had given me because of his own honorable life, and I was blessed because of that good name.
Will your children be blessed by their association with you? The Savior’s invitation, to follow Him and take His name upon ourselves, is also a pattern for us to follow in striving to pass down to our children a name which they will be honored to bear.
“An Unblemished Inheritance”
Our beloved Prophet and leader, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has masterfully taught the power and importance of honoring a good name. In a theme that he has repeated several times, he taught the following:
“As I sat in the temple in Columbus, Ohio, the other day, looking at my great-grandchildren, a peculiar thing happened. I suddenly realized that I stood midway, with three generations with which I am familiar behind me and three generations ahead of me. My heart literally turned to my fathers. My heart also turned to my posterity.
“I envisioned a chain of the generations. That chain goes back a very long way into the distant past, of which we know so very little. It now reaches for three generations beyond me. I pictured that chain in my mind’s eye, to date unbroken and shining and strong. . . .
“Now I thought, as I sat in the temple, that I am a link joining all of the generations of the past and all of the generations of the future. All that I have of mind and body, of tissue and limb and joint and brain have come as an inheritance from those who were before me. And all that my posterity have has passed through me to them. I cannot afford to break that chain. My posterity afford to break that chain. If should happen, we could obtain a repair link, but it would never be quite the same.
“I wish I had the eloquence of language to convey to you young people here today the feeling I had in the temple-the great, overwhelming desire that neither I nor my posterity should ever break the chain of the generations of our family.
“To you I say with all of the energy of which I am capable, do not become a weak link in your chain of generations. You come to this world with a marvelous inheritance. You come of great men and women, of men of bravery and courage, of women of accomplishment and tremendous faith. Never let them down. Never do anything which would weaken the chain of which you are a fundamental part. Should that happen, through repentance there might be repairs. But there will also be scars. There will still be regret. There will still be sorrow. . . .
“To you young women who will marry and become mothers and pass on the qualities of your generations, to you young men who will become fathers and pass on the lineage which is your greatest possession, I say, be true. Be true to the faith. . . . Be loyal to your great inheritance. Pass on in an unblemished fashion to those who come after you the great virtues of those who have preceded you. All of your heritage of body and mind have come from your forebears. Pass to those who will follow an unblemished inheritance, and thus continue bright and strong the links of your generation.” (Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, Vol. 1: 1995-1999, Deseret Book, 2005, pp. 474-475, 477)
In the words of a child or the ringing call of a prophet, we find the truth that if we are to bequeath a beautiful family inheritance to our children we must honor the names that we have received. We must live worthy of a good name. As we accept the invitation of the Savior to take upon ourselves His name, we will be drawn to honor those who come before us and to pass on a good name to those will follow.