Funeral meditation: What’s in a Name?

Pastor Grant shared this message during the funeral service for Kenneth D. “Kenny” Lough on Saturday, July 3, 2021. You can read Kenny’s obituary at

One of the occupational hazards of being a pastor is sometimes only getting to “meet” people in death.

And so it goes with Kenny and me. Due to his death, I’m just now coming to know who Kenny was and what he was all about.

And that saddens me. Because I’ve come to realize something that all of you already know: Kenny was one mighty special guy who made a difference in the lives of many others.

Particularly telling of Kenny’s soul and spirit is something his granddaughter Courtney posted to Facebook: “I was a grandpa’s girl through and through since the day I was born. Grandpa was always in my corner no matter what.”

Would that the world had more grandpas like Kenny!

Beyond that, you’ve told stories and shared memories about Kenny’s always-on-the-go life that paint a vivid picture of someone who had quite a zeal for living and a zest for making the most of out of life – so eager and excited to be part of the world and soak up all its blessings that he just couldn’t wait for his in-labor mother to get to the delivery room, and he ended up being born en route to the hospital in the back of a taxi.

The one story about Kenny that leaves me most in awe arises from his long tenure as a school bus driver. To have spent a couple decades wending your way along the hilly, curvy – sometimes icy and snowy gravel roads of Allamakee County with precious cargos of noisy, wiggly, occasionally snotty kids speaks volumes not only of Kenny’s driving abilities but also of his patience, tolerance and fortitude.

I sometimes could barely tolerate going on family vacations with our three kids in the back of our minivan, so I can’t but help admire someone who willing traveled probably thousands of miles with dozens of other people’s kids twice daily – home to school and back – day after day, year after year.

But one bus-driving skill, for me anyway, sets Kenny apart: His desire to know the children, teen-agers, and athletes entrusted to his care. As I’m told, Kenny knew each of his young passengers by name.

So, what’s in a name?

To her lover, Romeo, Shakespeare’s Juliet asks and answers the question: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet is telling Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention easily discarded at will with nothing lost.

Is that really “what’s in a name?”

The Bible would beg to differ. Scripture proclaims names as powerful things – anything but artificial and meaningless. In a nutshell, names matter.

The name “Kenneth” is of Scottish origin, and it means “handsome.” Which likely explains why it wasn’t just the sight of a fancy purple car pulling up to her house that turned a young woman’s head, one day back in 1966, when Kenny and some friends drove clear-across Iowa to meet the “pretty lady” in Waukon whom he’d seen in a photograph.

Two years later, that “pretty lady’s” name would change: Gloria Gramlich would become Gloria Lough, and the rest, as they say, is history – a long, loving story blessed with children, grandchildren, and plenty of husband-and-wife adventures along beautiful country roads, and to the “boat,” and to Menard’s, and to North Country Steak Buffet.

So, yes, names matter. You are your name, and your name is you – in more ways than you might realize.

More than simply what someone scrawls on a birth or marriage certificate, our names hold deep spiritual meaning. Our names matter, because our names hold power, and our names hold promise. Our names come as close as anything else in identifying who we are and – more importantly – whose we are. Our names reveal something of who God is and what God is all about.

When you and I were baptized, we were given new names. We were marked, named and claimed as unique and beloved “Children of God.” 

That means we’re one with Jesus Christ – the One whom God anointed to profess God’s name.

That means God in Jesus Christ is forever transforming us into new creations.

That means we put our good hope for the future in the Lord’s promises of the past, which are made real in the present by the Holy Spirit.

I’m reading to you from the Old Testament’s Psalm 139. With the help of the Spirit, listen for God’s promises about the past, the present, and the future for you, for me, and for Kenny:

O LORD, you have searched me and known me [by name].

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the pit, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end, and I am still with you.

It’s what makes grace so amazing:

The love of God knits each of us together in our mother’s womb and hems in each of our lives with hands that are nail-scarred. God, apparently, isn’t yet graciously done with any of us – no matter who are or aren’t, no matter what we’ve said or left unsaid, no matter what we’ve done or left undone.

Generations after the psalmist wrote those words of Psalm 139, the Gospel of John collects all those thoughts together in one place and one person: “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them [by name], and they follow me,” Jesus says. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand.”

For that undeserved favor, for that unearned mercy – let all thanks and praise be to Father, Son and Spirit who know us by name – in life, in death, and from this time on and forever more.

Indeed, names really do matter – particularly the hope and assurance of resurrection that names hold for those of us who, like Kenny, will always be called a “Child of God.”

Amen, and amen!

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