I have always believed it to be a great irony that a Baptist minister should be named after the Greek “god of wine,” but I am. I will never forget as a young man stumbling across a “baby names” book in my house and flipping quickly to the D‘s to find out what my name meant. And before I knew it, there it was: “Dennis: the Greek god of wine.”
I was gobsmacked. I was only ten years old, but I had been Baptist long enough to know that something was terribly amiss. As far as I knew, my teetotaling parents had given me my name, but this just wasn’t adding up. How could I be named after a banned substance?
All kidding aside, the meaning of Dennis had very little to do with it. I am named after my Dad, Dennis Senior. He passed his name on to me, and I have passed the name on to my son as well. It’s a family name, and neither me nor my dad had any notion of labeling our offspring after illicit libations.
I have three children now and one on the way—which means that I have been in the baby-naming business for seven years. Throughout these childbearing years, my wife and I have had many conversations about baby names. Even now, we are still hammering out which boy name and girl name will make the final cut for baby’s arrival later this month.
In all of our conversations about names over the years, I’ve not been as much interested in names that have a nice ring to them as I have been in names that have a great meaning to them. For me, that entails finding a name with either a meaningful definition or a meaningful personal connection.
My daughter Abigail’s name falls in the first category. It’s a Hebrew derivative meaning “father’s joy.” And that is what she is to me. My son Dennis III falls into the second category. Ultimately, his name goes back to my dad, whom I love and admire and for whom I’m grateful beyond words. There’s a personal connection with the name Dennis that transcends its dictionary definition.
But there’s another connection with Dennis that I just discovered this evening while meditating on Acts 17. I’ve read this passage countless times, but somehow I’ve missed this until now. Sharing this discovery is my real reason for writing this post.
In the latter half of Acts 17, Paul arrives in Athens, Greece and finds himself standing before the preening philosophers of the Areopagus. His sermon to the greatest minds of his day is a tour de force against the intellectual pretensions of first century Athens. The philosophers appear to be taking it all in…until Paul gets to the conclusion:
“[God] has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
The Bible says that when Paul mentions the resurrection, the philosophers began to “sneer” at him. They began to look down their noses at him and to treat him and his message as intellectually beneath them. As far as they were concerned, it was utter foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23). After all, what kind of a moron would believe in dead Jewish peasants rising from the grave? And so the text says that “Paul went out of their midst.”
After watching this preacher absorb the collective scorn of the greatest minds of his day, who would want to be associated with Paul or his crucified God? Who would bear the reproach of this fairy tale about a Man named Jesus rising from the dead? I will tell you who did—a man named Dennis.
“Some men joined [Paul] and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).
Dennis is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Dionysius. The Dennis that Paul preached to really was named after the Greek god of wine, but he got a new name that day—Christian.
Why is this important to me? In the biblical tradition, Dennis is not the god of wine. Dennis is the proud philosopher who came to find out that his deepest need was not the adulation of the academy, but the ministrations of a Savior. Dennis is the sinner who had his wayward heart conquered by Jesus of Nazareth. In short, Dennis is me.
I’d like to get all baby name books everywhere revised. The name Dennis means more than they would otherwise suggest. Let the record show that Dennis is fixed within the ancient biblical tradition in a single verse—a verse that means more to me today than ever before.