By Keith Kidwell
“You’re George Kidwell’s boy, aren’t you?” I was asked by the clerk at the Public Utility District. “Yes, ma’am!” I proudly replied. Even to a 10-year-old it was clear that my dad’s name meant something to the lady taking George Kidwell’s check in payment of my family’s monthly electric bill. I had learned that if “George R. Kidwell” (the “R” is for Ralph ) was signed on anything in our small town it meant the check was good, the deal was honest, the goods or services would be delivered as promised.
Raised in severe poverty, the son of a 15-year-old bride and a tough-as-nails cowboy, my dad pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to become far more than anyone predicted. Having been in church maybe once or twice in his life until meeting my mom in 1946, Dad found Christ at twenty-one and never looked back. With a work ethic that he certainly didn’t learn from his alcoholic, inveterate gambler father, Dad modeled integrity, thrift, spirituality and uncommon common sense in everything he did.
One of the greatest lessons I ever learned about the importance of a good name was during the first year of my stint in the Navy. Fresh back to the U.S. and home-ported in San Diego, I needed some wheels. Without any credit record or the cash to buy the truck I’d found at a local dealership, I called my home town bank to see about a loan. Over the phone the banker said he’d loan me the money on the strength of my dad’s reputation at the bank. It was called a signature loan. “George R. Kidwell” on the papers was all the collateral needed.
There are some obvious spiritual applications here. Our credit with God is secured by the Name above all names. “It is finished” signed away our debt and created all the collateral with God any of us will ever need. This is something we all know from reading the record of Jesus Christ’s role as Savior of the world. But I would like to bring this concept a little closer to home by asking this question: “What does your name mean when people hear it?”
All of us have content associated with our name. The quality of that content is determined by our words, actions and attitudes. Our reputation (name recognition) is built over time and defines who we are to others. Our name identifies us even if we share exactly the same name with someone else. There are 1,090 members in the Jim Smith Society (www.jimsmithsociety.com) but each one is unique, not because his name is eight letters of the alphabet composed in a certain order, but because a particular Jim Smith personifies a body of associated content. “Oh, that Jim Smith,” says it all.
Once during my first year of college I was pulled over by a young Washington State Trooper for driving my ’54 Plymouth a little too fast. When he read the name on my driver’s license he asked, “Which Kidwell do you belong to?” I was more than a little surprised because I was 270 miles from my home town. When I told him my dad was George he smiled and said, “That’s good, because I just arrested another Kidwell for drunk driving the other night.” Turns out the drunk driver was my uncle and turns out the state trooper was a kid who grew up next door but had graduated from high school a few years before me. I didn’t get a ticket. Once again my dad’s good name influenced an outcome.
Good, bad or indifferent, your name means something to others. It may elicit raised eyebrows, a smile, a frown, a knowing look, a nod of recognition, a grimace of pain or an exclamation of praise. Your name defines you. It both precedes you and follows you. It will open or close doors of opportunity, the hearts of people and avenues of influence. It will be a legacy for your children and your children’s children.
I want to remind you of two other names you represent besides your own. You represent the organization you are part of, whether it be a school, a church, a ministry, a business or a corporation. In fact, you and the others in your organization aren’t part of it, you are it. You give its name content. You define it. The name will mean different things to different people due to their relationship and shared experiences with who the name identifies. The rise or fall of an organization’s name depends on its individual members.
More importantly, you carry the name Christian, which means “a Christ one.” The way you represent Christ may determine the only picture of God some will ever see. Carrying the Name is a sacred trust. Guard it well.
Keith Kidwell spent more than 20 years in several Pacific Rim nations as a foreign missionary with Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) before assuming his current position of Administrator for AGWM where he directs the support services for its world-wide missionary force.