I have wrestled with this question about 11 or 12 years ago, whether to change my surname because my surname (Osunnuyi), doesn’t reflect something that I believe in per se. Now, it is true God did change people’s names in the Bible. And yet, God didn’t change other people’s names in the Bible.
When you look at people whose names were given, Abraham, Israel, Jesus, John, it wasn’t that their names created their destiny, their destiny was already foreordained, and now at a point in time, God was calling them to fulfill that destiny, and so God then changed their name in respect of what he was going to do. This is different from saying because I was named this way, this is what is going to happen to me. I know some people who have changed their name, nothing changed about their destiny, nothing changed about their character.
Another reason I decided not to change my surname was what I see in the Bible was not surnames that were changed. Now, I know that the Bible doesn’t really have surnames. It was somebody’s first name and then the son of…, but by the time we get to Jesus’ era you can have Bar-Jonah which means you are the son of Jonah but that’s a Hebrew thing. Those names, Bar-Jonah, and names like that weren’t changed. People’s first names were being changed. So, if anything, according to the Bible what is of more significance is the first names rather than the surnames. Now when we are given good first names, we are praying, we are asking God. It’s a form of dedication of that child to God to say, this is what we want to see you do in this person’s life. So, it’s a prayer and we need to be careful about what is a prayer and what is a promise.
So, I will encourage us to think long and hard about the first names we give to our children. My first name Oluwafemi means God loves me. I keep Osunnuyi because I want to respect the fact that God gave me a natural heritage and I feel like once I change it to maybe Olunnuyi, two generations from me will probably not know who my great grandfather and my grandfather was and all that and it can become mixed up. And I do think there is some value in knowing your natural heritage. I am not saying it is of utmost value but there is some value in that. I believe that God had already called me and given me a good name and my life has been going in that direction and I don’t feel any burden from that surname. But I am not against somebody changing it.
Some people don’t like Babatunde, Yewande. If you want to change it, it’s a good thing. I think sometimes we shouldn’t major in what are minors, and these are the things that if people want to do it, fine, and if people don’t want to do it, it’s also fine. It is a pet peeve for me when Yorubas, Igbos, or Hausas name their children Hebrew names and think that by naming their children Hebrew names, they are being more spiritual as though Hebrew is a spiritual language. I think the value of Christianity is that Christ came to die for all nations and Christ has redeemed your language. And so when you express what Christ has done for you in your language, you are actually proclaiming Jesus’s Lordship over your culture rather than saying there is a more spiritual culture but if people come up with Hebrew names because of some special revelation, I have no problem with it.
Femi Osunnuyi is lead pastor of City Church, a gospel-centred urban church in the city of Lagos. Because of his passion for church planting and leadership development he also serves on the Lead Team of Acts29 and the Advisory Team of City to City Africa. He is happily married to Tosin and is father to Tofunmi and Timilehin.