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Theologue What’s in a Name?

God IS gracious! A blessing we take for granted is language, which has connected us to one another from the time of the Garden of Eden. Humans are designed to be relational beings and our biblical roots are deep, though not always obvious. Perhaps you’ve heard the old yarn about Bruce and the Spider and never giving up. Once upon a time, at the tip of the 14th century, King of Scotland “Robert the Bruce” is said to have hidden in a cave for three months after being defeated in battle. While passing the time, he watched as a spider tried over and over again to build a web before eventually succeeding. Inspired by the spider’s determination, legend has it, the king came out of hiding to lead Scotland to victory the first war for independence from England. He’s a national hero still today in Scotland. This Robert the Bruce of legend was actually the 8th to bear the name and is connected to Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” story. My story, however, really begins with the 1st Robert the Bruce of the 12th century… Way back in the 1100s, there was this other guy who’s gone down in history as the first to bear the surname Johnestoun (or Johnstone), the now anglicized Johnston (with or without the “t”), one John Johnston, the (pardon the pun)  John(ny) Appleseed of the Scots Clan Johnston, from which I purport myself to be descended (dangling precariously by one gene strand from at least 35 generations up). Robert the Bruce (the 1st), the First Lord of Annandale, personally rewarded John for fighting bravely alongside him during the Norman Conquest. John was granted the whole 800-some-odd-square-mile strath (valley area) of Annandale to govern as lord. John was of the Norman lords arriving in Scotland in the 1100. At that time surnames weren’t being used. They didn’t appear until about 1,000 AD. The first people in Scotland to acquire surnames were the Norman Nobeles, who came from France with William the Conqueror and were of Viking ancestry. John was known simply as “John,” the only name he had. Those lands became known as “Johnstun” or “John’s town” (“tun” from the Celtic language translates to “town” or “lands”). The Johnston Clan of Annandale held a chunk of turf on the southern edge of the Scottish Lowlands, on the English border, about the size of Dallas County. And they feuded a lot with their neighbors, most notably the ...

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