Parashat Sh’mot (“Names”) reminds me that we once lived in a street with a dry cleaners around the corner.
As my job entailed wearing a suit every day, I often took my suits to the dry cleaners. Obviously they needed my name but there came a time when it was ridiculous. I was a regular and surely the woman behind the counter should be able to remember who I was. But no, she barked at me every time, “What’s your name?”
Eventually I gave up expecting her to remember me but I started asking myself, “What’s your name?”
The woman in the shop wasn’t to know that the Jewish sages said that everyone has three names, the name your parents give you, the name others call you, and the name you acquire for yourself (Kohelet Rabbah 7:1).
The first name is beyond your control. So (generally) is the second, but the third is up to you.
How you live life defines your identity. The values you espouse indicate your character.
The Midrash is right: the earned name is more valuable than the given name (Kohelet Rabbah 7:4).