Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Your Secret Name

  • Kary Oberbrunner Author
  • 2010 25 Aug
Your Secret Name

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Your Secret Name by Kary Oberbrunner (Zondervan).


The Gentle Whisper

Tomorrow night I could change my little girl's future forever —and strangely, she isn't even born yet.

On our "date night" — an infrequent event for two parents with two other children under the age of four — my wife, Kelly, and I will go to a local bookstore, sit down with a stack of books, and participate in a ritual as old as humanity itself.

We're going to pick out a name for a child we've never met.

At least that's the plan.

With only eight weeks left in the pregnancy, we can't afford to stall.  Unfortunately, we've been having the same date night for the last several months, and we're no closer to choosing a name.

When we come home, our babysitter can tell with one glance at our dejected faces that we're going to need her services again, and sooner than any of us thought.

Naming our first two kids posed a few obstacles, but at the present moment this third one has us caught in a cruel headlock and almost ready to tap out. Until we settle on a name we're gridlocked, unable to move an inch in any other area of our fast-paced lives.

As a guy, coming home without a name feels similar to returning from a hunt without a kill — or maybe from the hardware store without that critical part (although admittedly I don't often venture into the realm of home improvement). In any case, my inability to score the right name undermines any hope of fulfilling the "masculine stereotype" of a problem solver.

Kelly doesn't feel any better.

She paces the house at all hours of the night, penciling possibilities that seem impossible when examined in the light of day. Somehow, both of us feel beaten by this task, and every day that we fail to come up with a name is another day closer to our daughter's birth.

At some point in history, we humans decided assigning names in infancy was a good idea. Our parents got suckered into the same strategy because they had the same pattern modeled to them.

The tradition isn't all bad, as there are some benefits to bestowing names early on. No one wants to be referred to as "boy" or "girl" for the bulk of their childhood. Yet our need for names bleeds much deeper than birth certificates on official papers and lingers much longer than the echo from the server's voice at Panera Bread announcing that our "Pick Two" soup and salad combo is ready to be picked up at the counter.

The truth is, every single person who's breathing in this same air on planet Earth is also caught up in the same age-old Name Game.

And as long as we're stuck in the Name Game — the unsuccessful cycle of trying to discover our true identity independently of God — rest assured, we'll never win.

On the contrary, we'll always be swept away with a dose of angst that often feels as colossal as planet Earth.

Think I'm exaggerating?

Let me ask then:

Are you completely secure in understanding who you are?

Are you confident you know your true identity?

Are you fully resolved concerning certain monumental issues, like discerning your purpose, calling, and lot in this life?

If not, don't feel discouraged. Instead, realize these feelings are both normal and natural. God himself planted these questions deep inside your soul in order that you'd eventually discover the path that leads to him. Or, more theologically accurate, so that you'd reach the end of yourself and then finally be ready to experience the beginning of him. The Bible tells us: "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart" (Ecclesiastes 3:11 TNIV).

Essentially, we're all homesick for a place we've never been. And so we live as nomads, groping toward a destination we can't quite define. As creatures we fumble along, hoping to find our way back to the One who made us — believing that as we discover who we truly are, we also discover a portion of who he truly is.

Anthropologists agree with this phenomenon, at least in part.

They understand uncertainty infects every person in every culture and that each one of us desperately desires the answer to the most basic question:


These three simple words hijack our brains at an early age, clutching onto our core, nagging us wherever we go. Children seek to answer this question in playtime by assigning titles like Mommy or Daddy when playing house or labels like cops and robbers when playing bank heist.

Adults seek to answer this question with more sophisticated strategies. Some of us climb our way up the corporate ladder, plowing through perpetual promotions. Others of us pride ourselves in maintaining our reputation of trendy and hip, manifested by securing the latest gadgets and trinkets. In the checkout line at the mall, we buy the lie that a new jacket or pair of shoes will somehow dispel the hurt we feel in our hearts. But the excitement soon fades, and our souls are once again exposed as naked and needy.

We incorrectly assume that names given by other people or other things will somehow scratch our identity itch.

Yet Birth Names (the names assigned to us when we arrive in this world) and Given Names (the positive and negative titles we inherit while walking in this world) were never hardwired to alleviate the tension.

On the contrary, they only fuel it, creating more space between us and our true identity.

And so many of us spend a lifetime running from our Given Names, exchanging our best years, hoping to escape these false words that reach out and long to define us. But transcending these titles is no simple task.

Slowly over time, these labels become part of our permanent wardrobe. And as we wear them, we end up settling for so much less than we were born to be.

We'd do well to swallow the truth — that such names are never enough. Neither our Birth Name nor our Given Names expel the ache or satisfy our souls. None serve as a substitute for our Secret Name.

Secret Name?

Probably sounds a bit cosmic or, at a minimum, a bit unfamiliar?

But that's only because our vocabulary doesn't often venture into epic realms, realms of destiny and legacy. Instead, we frequently prefer trivial topics, like other people's attempts at dieting, our favorite college team's road to the championship, or our friend's most recent status update on the latest social-networking site. But let's not be too hard on ourselves. We're not shallow people.

Rather, we've just gotten used to relating on levels that avoid soul issues.

For a thousand reasons, it's much easier this way. Good thing God has much more in mind. He wants to grant you a new name — a Secret Name, in fact — but you can only start embracing your future name when you stop running from your present ones.

You must accept who you are in order to discover who you were created to be.

This book is about giving up the Name Game.

It's about putting an end to chasing the false names that offer only a hollow promise.

It's about finally encountering your Secret Name, drinking it down, and allowing it to ooze into every quadrant of your life — the visible ones and the invisible ones alike.

As you might have guessed, discovering your Secret Name isn't a painless process. And Secret Names aren't bestowed to the masses either, only unto the remnant courageous enough to deal with their junk.

The first step is to turn down the noise a few notches. The world perpetually shouts and screams, seeking to brand you.

Your true name — your Secret Name — is granted only by the One who knew you before you were born.

In all this, remember, the Father doesn't speak with a loud voice, but most often with a gentle whisper. Tragically, we rarely stay quiet long enough to hear him.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  1 Kings 19:11-12

Copyright © 2010 by Kary Oberbrunner
This title is also available as a Zondervan ebook. Visit
This title is also available in a Zondervan audio edition. Visit
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530

Kary Oberbrunner, MDiv, DMin, founded Redeem the Day, a movement connecting people to a process that ignites their souls on fire. Author of The Fine Line, Called, and The Journey Towards Relevance, Kary serves as a pastor at Grace Church in Ohio. He and his soul mate, Kelly, have three kids. In his free time he enjoys reading, the outdoors, and playing disc golf.  To learn more about Kary, please visit