Sleep did not come easy for Alexander. This was not his first military campaign. Far from it. He’d conquered most of the known world by this point. But he wasn’t finished. Not yet. Not until history would know him as the greatest of all.
But on this night, sleep eluded him. He rose from his bed and ventured out of his tent, tired of the endless tossing and turning. He was exhausted, but couldn’t sleep, not with his mind racing as it was. That’s when he noticed the boy. A guard. Asleep. While on duty.
He’d barely moved by the time Alexander came up on him. But he leapt to his feet when he realized what had happened. It was not unusual for those who fell asleep while on guard duty to be doused with kerosene and burned alive on the spot.
Alexander fixed his gaze fiercely upon the frightened boy. “What’s your name, son?”, asked Alexander. The boy hesitated, frozen with fear. “Answer me, boy!”, Alexander barked. “My name is Alexander, sir,” the boy replied.
Alexander asked a second time. “What is your name?” “It’s Alexander, sir”, the boy again replied.
Alexander never broke eye contact. “What is your name?” “Sir, my name is Alexander”, the boy responded a third time, now with tears welling up in his eyes.
Alexander’s stare pierced the boy like a stiff wind. “Soldier”, Alexander directed, “change your conduct . . . or change your name.” And with that, Alexander the Great left the boy at his post and continued on.
We don’t know what happened after that. We don’t know what happened to the boy. We don’t know for sure that this event actually happened. But it illustrates an important point. Our name should mean something.
Alexander’s name meant something to him. His desire was for it to carry renown. For it to be remembered throughout history. And he got his wish.
But what of our names. Do they matter? Do they mean anything, even to us? They should. A man’s name is his reputation. It triggers a thought in those who hear it. What thought does your name trigger in those who hear it? Respect? Inspiration? Disdain? Pity? Regret?
We don’t think about this type of thing anymore. There was a time when your name, your family name, meant something. It told everyone what clan you were from. It told them what kind of person you were.
That still happens today, but it means less and less. We’re all so focused on “being an individual” and “not letting anyone else define us”. And those aren’t necessarily bad things. But they cause us to miss something very important: our connection through the generations.
Our name – our family name – is our connection to both the past and the future. Like Alexander, I had a sleepless night recently. Now, it wasn’t because I was plotting military strategy in order to rule the entire world (or was it????). But as I let my mind wander that night, I started thinking about my kids. I prayed for them. And that got me thinking about my grandkids. And I prayed for them.
That got me thinking about my own grandparents. I wondered if they had had a sleepless night back in 1950. And I wonder if they thought about me and prayed for me as they pondered life. And that made me wonder if some night in 2090 my grandkids, who will then be grown with families of their own, will perhaps think of me on late night in the quiet darkness. I hope they do. And I hope they know that on a random April night in 2020, even while their parents were still young, their grandfather thought about them. That he hoped for them. And that he prayed that their lives would be good.
And I hope they feel a duty to live up to their name. I hope our family name means as much to them as it does to me. I hope they love it. I hope they honor it. I hope they take it to new heights.
My family name means something because of those who came before me. Good men who married good women and lived their lives well. That was gifted to me as a man by my father and grandfathers. I didn’t earn it. But my job is to earn it now and to raise the standard for those who come after me.
That means living well as a man and communicating to my children how to honor our family name. It means teaching them that we pursue virtue. It means teaching them to be strong and courageous. It means that we must be tough. It means we must not give in to fear or back down from adversity. It means that we protect each other and those who need us. It means that we must build wealth, for ourselves and those we can help.
What does your name mean? Does it mean only sports? Or video games? Or leisure? Or something worse? If that’s the case, it’s time to change. There’s still time to make your name mean something. There’s still time to build a name that your descendants will wear with pride. A name that they can honor and then continue to lift up. That’s the man’s life. May we all build it. Godspeed.
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