My Name

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You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain,
for the LORD will not hold him guiltless
who takes his name in vain.
(Exod 20:7)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is a name? Is it a blessing, a curse, or prophesy?

My first name, Stephen, is a bit of each. The name, Stephen, comes from the Greek word for crown (στέφανος) [1]. The biblical story of Stephen describes him as: “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was one of the first persons chosen to serve as a deacon in the church. He succeeded in his work “doing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He also persuasively argued the faith attracting enemies who, unable to debate him, instigated false charges against him (Acts 6:10-11). Guided by the Holy Spirit, Stephen was stoned and martyred [2]. Stephen’s story speaks to me.

Stephen is a family name in my father’s mother’s family. Her name was Gertrude DeKock. When I was born, she insisted that I be named Stephen after her grandfather, Stephanus DeKock, like my dad. Stephanus was born in the Netherlands (Herwijnen) and immigrated to Pella, Iowa with his parents in 1856 at the age of 17. In August 1862, Stephanus volunteered for the Union Army and served in the 22rd Iowa Infantry (DeCook).

Stephanus was not the first Stephen in the DeKock family. The oldest known, Stephen, in the family was Stephanie, the wife of Philip of Naples in twelfth century France. Her son, Rudolf Chatillon, received the title of Count LeCocq from the King of France because he reported early every day for battle—like a rooster (le Cocq). Later (around 1200) he received a grant of land in Gelderland, The Netherlands and the title, Le Cocq, was translated into DeKock (DeCook).

In keeping with the DeKock family tradition, Gertrude used to vacuum my bedroom at seven o’clock in the morning.

The Hiemstra influence was more subtle.

The family originates in Dokkum which is a Frisian city alone the North Sea in the Netherlands. The Frisians have their own distinctive language which, unlike other dialects, shares little in common with German and Dutch. The Frisians kept their independence from surrounding nations until the Dutch revolt against Spain in 1568—a political manifestation of the reformation [3].

The name, Hiemstra, divides into two parts: hiem and stra. A Frisian friend of mine, who I met as a student in Germay, informed me years ago that “hiem” means home while the “stra” indicates a Frisian origin. My grandfather, Frank Henry Hiemstra, spoke Frisian along with Dutch but he never taught his sons. Instead, he insisted on raising them as Americans speaking English. According to my father, the family move away from Pella to Oskaloosa and attendance at Central Reformed Church in Oskaloosa served to separate the family from daily ethnic Dutch influences—a very Frisian idea!

Frank’s identity remained in Christ. Frank left behind no autobiography or list of accomplishments. Instead, he composed a short piece entitled: Grandpa’s Favorite Bible Verses and Quotations (1998) which starts with:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Further on he writes about prayer and concludes that: “the purpose of prayer [is] to glorify the name of God”.

Frank was subtle; he left room in his life for God.

 

[1] (BDAG 6819). στέφανος means: “a wreath made of foliage or designed to resemble foliage and worn by one of high status or held in high regard, wreath, crown.”

[2] The charge against Stephen was twofold:

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14)

Stephen never disputed the charge and offered no defense. Instead, he accused the Jews of false worship and not keeping the law (Acts 7:48, 53) effectively validating their charges. What drove them crazy, however, was when he reminded them of Jesus’ words during his trial:

“But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt 26:64)

Jesus was paraphrasing Daniel 7:13. This was clear a claim of divinity. Stephen’s stoning was spontaneous and illegal under Roman law (John 18:31).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frisians.

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

DeCook, Stephen and JoAnn. 1999. “DeKock, DeCook Ancestry”. July. Also manuscript “The DeKock Group” (both unpublished).

 

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1 Comment

  1. Loved this! Very informative. I didn’t know we had any French in us, I guess that’s from the DeCook side. Do you have a soft copy of Grandpa’s favorite scriptures or the DeCook writings? Love,Karen

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