History is rich with ironic twists that had tremendous impact on the world. Johann Georg Hiedler was a miller and a wanderer who moved from one Austrian village to the next. His first marriage in 1824 ended abruptly with the death of his wife and infant son. It was not until eighteen years later that he married Maria Anna Schicklgruber, a forty-seven year old peasant. Five years prior to the marriage Anna gave birth to an illegitimate son, of whom Johann was most probably the father, and named him Alois Schicklgruber. Though the usual custom was for Johann to legitimize his son after the marriage, he failed to do that and Alois grew up with his mother’s maiden name.
Anna died in 1847, after which Johann dropped off the scene for thirty years. During that interval, for some reason, he changed the spelling of his last name from Hiedler to Hitler. More mysterious, Johann surfaced at the age of eighty-four to testify before a notary and witnesses that he was indeed the father of Alois Schicklgruber. Why Johann waited so long to legitimize his son, who was now thirty-nine years old, is not known for certain. But in 1876, as a result of the notarized statement, the parish priest in Doellersheim went to the registry and marked out the name of Alois Schicklgruber, replacing it with the new name of Alois Hitler.
Thirteen years later Alois and his third wife, Klara, had a son whom they named Adolf. Had Adolf’s grandfather, Johann, not returned at the end of his life to recognize his paternity of Alois, then the future Nazi dictator would have been born Adolf Schicklgruber. And it has been speculated that, with the last name of Schicklgruber, he would never have risen to the notorious prominence he achieved. “Heil Schicklgruber” does not roll easily off the tongue and, in fact, has a comical sound when pronounced by many Germans. Adolf Hitler himself recognized early on there was something to his last name and confided to a friend how glad he was that his father’s name had been changed from Schicklgruber to Hitler (see William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich).
A name can be powerful indeed. But no name can compare in power to the name of Christ, which is the only name in which a man can be forgiven of his sins (Acts 4:12). Christians are people who have a new name (Isa. 62:2). They have buried their old lives of sin and been raised from baptism to walk a new life (Rom. 6:3-6). They have been purchased by God for his own use (1 Cor. 6:20) and now proudly wear the name of his own Son (Acts 11:26). Their wills have been crucified with Christ, who now lives in them (Gal. 2:20). It is no longer they who work, but God who works in them (Phil. 2:13).
Who among us can estimate the earth-shaking impact of Christianity on the globe? In the first century Christians were viewed as those who had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). And we can still do that today, not because of our own might, but because of the power of God, who works in us beyond what we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Without obeying him as Savior and wearing his name, we are powerless to produce spiritual fruit (John 15:5) and will forever be held back from accomplishing what is truly great. But if we turn our wills over to him and take his name as our own, there is no end to the marvelous things he can do through us. Have you changed your name?