History of Hymns: "Bring Many Names"
"Bring Many Names"
The Faith We Sing, No. 2047
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory,
living, loving God.
Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!*
In his book What Language Shall I Borrow?, Brian Wren discusses the significance of ascribing names for God:
“Naming God truthfully is important, since to name God untruthfully is to delude ourselves and worship an idol. Naming God truthfully is especially important if language shapes and angles thinking and behavior, since untruthful God-language will then hinder our encounter with God and our knowledge of God.”
Dr. Wren (b. 1936) is one of the most effective hymn writers of this generation in enlarging our understanding and challenging the inherited assumptions of earlier eras.
In his discussion of this hymn in the collection, Bring Many Names: 35 New Hymns by Brian Wren (1989), the author states: “If the human race is created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), it follows that both femaleness and maleness reveal the divine, and (since we are not static but have a changing life cycle), both youth and age give glimpses of God."
In an article in The Hymn, Dr. Wren comments more on the concept of human gender and the Imago Dei—being in the image of God: “In Genesis 1, the meaning of ‘image of God’ is elusive, though many have tried to define it. At its simplest, it suggests that God gives us glimpses of the divine nature in each other, and specifically in our gendered-ness. It follows that, at their best, ‘femaleness’ and ‘maleness’ give us insight into God, so that there are truths about God, to express which we need language and metaphor drawn from female and male experience, at their best.”
The first stanza of the original draft written in 1968, beginning with “Strong mother God,” became the hymn’s second stanza in its final form. He added the new first stanza (cited above) in 1987 when the hymn was under consideration for inclusion by the Hymnal Revision Committee for The UM Hymnal.
Each stanza provides us with a glimpse of God: “Warm father God,” “Old, aching God,” “Young, growing God,” and finally “Great, living God.”
The fifth stanza, “Young, growing God...” was revised after a discussion with the Mennonite Brethren Hymnal Council in 1988, revealing a characteristic of Dr. Wren’s hymn writing. Dr. Wren’s method often involves a process of interaction with others and, even after initial publication, several revisions.
In a more recent collection by the author, Piece Together Praise (1996), we see that this hymn, first written in 1986, was revised in 1987, 1988 and 1994 until the form that appears in The Faith We Sing. This reveals an organic, ongoing hymn-writing process rather than a chiseled-in-stone, once-and-for-all event.
We often envision God Incarnate as an infant at Christmas. On the other hand, stanza five (beginning “Old, aching God”) draws upon Daniel 7:9, a passage that refers to a vision of God as the “one that was ancient of days.”
Born and raised in Romford, Essex, England, Dr. Wren earned both his B.A. and Ph.D. from Oxford University. Ordained in Britain’s United Reformed Church, he has served the church universal in many capacities including a parish minister, hymn writer and lecturer.
Dr. Wren, now a citizen of the United States, is Professor of Worship emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. He has published eight collections of his hymn texts and two additional collections with his wife Susan Heafield, a United Methodist pastor. Dr. Wren’s hymns appear in virtually every English language hymnal published since 1980.