My name is “Joshua” not “Josh.”
Of course there’s nothing wrong with short forms of names, diminutives or nicknames. In addition to their given names (which we commonly use in full), each of our children has a whole collection. In our house you might hear Yaya, Lala, or Didi, just to name a few. (Can you guess which short form was derived from which child’s name?)
But I prefer to be called “Joshua” rather than just josh. Sure, I’ll answer to the short form and am not upset by its use. But that’s not my name.
The english name Joshua comes from the Hebrew name Yehoshua and the Aramaic form Yeshua. These names all mean Yahweh is salvation, Yahweh saves-heals-rescues-delivers. (The personal, covenental name of God in Hebrew, often written just YHWH, is often replaced in english bibles with LORD in all caps.) So whenever someone calls me by my given name, I am reminded who I am — rescued-by-Yahweh — and of whose I am — the Rescuer’s, the Healer’s.
On the other hand, the english noun “josh” refers light-hearted, jesting banter. The verb means either “to tease (someone) in a playful way” (when transitive) or “to engage in joking or playful talk” (when intransitive). There is nothing wrong, in and of itself, with banter. But I’d rather the core of my identity be tied to the saving acts of my God than with a jest.
Of course the english name Jesus is our pronunciation of Yesous (in greek), which is in turn the greek pronunciation of Yeshua. So when I am called by my name, I am reminded that all disciples of Jesus are called to be christophers, Christ-bearers, as well as christians, little Christs or partisans of Christ.
There was once a high priest named Joshua. In a vision, the prophet Zechariah saw him dressed in filthy rags, being accused by the satan. God himself rebuked the accuser, and God’s messenger directed the priest Joshua’s filthy garments to be removed, and caused him to be dressed with clean festal garments and a clean turban was put on his head. God told this Joshua, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you.” (Zechariah 3.1-5) This reminds me that in Jesus, my own iniquity has been taken from me and I am clothed with robes of righteousness and joy. I am, in fact, clothed with Christ.
My parents, of course, named me after the second most famous of those to bear this name, Joshua – “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Numbers 27.18) – the successor of Moses, with a prayer that I would one day grow into the same level of faithfulness which he exhibited. That Joshua’s parents named him “Hoshea” (deliverance, salvation, healing, rescuing), no doubt prayerfully dreaming that Israel’s deliverance from her bondage in Egypt would come during the lifetime of their son. Significantly, Moses changed his name to Yehoshua (“Joshua” is the usual english transliteration), emphasizing just who it was who was doing the delivering, saving, rescuing and healing.
(See especially Numbers 27.15-23 & 13.16b, though his story is found throughout Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.)
Back when I had more time for my trumpet, one of my favorite pieces to improvise on was the african-american slaves’ spiritual, “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” (sometimes jazzy, sometimes bluesy). That’s an awesome story, and a fun song. But my favorite part of the story comes before the better-known story of the siege and defeat of that city.
Now usually the first thing one of God’s spirit-messengers (“angel” is just the english pronunciation of the greek New Testament word for “messenger”) has to tell a human is “Don’t fear.” Sometimes that means “don’t be afraid,” because the person is terrified. Sometimes it means “don’t give me the reverent awe and worship that is only due the Creator.” Because angels aren’t fat babies with wings, nor are they gentle and motherly young mothers with sweet smiles and perfectly brushed, long flowing hair, plus wings and halo. God’s angels are actually mighty warriors whose presence and holiness are intimidating. This is why the prophet Daniel fell on his face in sheer terror when approached by Gabriel (Daniel 8.17) and John the seer, when face-to-face with one of God’s holy messengers, fell at his feet to worship (twice! — Revelation 19.10 and again in 22.8).
But not Joshua. When he saw an angelic warrior standing against him with drawn sword, his first response was to boldly confront him: “Are you for us, or for our enemies?” Had not the LORD, and Moses, and the whole host of Israel commanded Joshua to be strong and courageous? Had God not promised to be with him? “No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you nor forsake you.” I want to have that sort of faith, that kind of trust, in God’s promises. I want to be “a man in whom is the Spirit.”
Names matter, and can be powerful.
Hello. My name is Joshua. And you are … ?
For the curious, we’ve also written about the meanings of our children’s names.