“Your reputation precedes you,” is a common expression that explains the potency of one’s standing in the community. It is usually applied to people who are famous and noteworthy. It means that the deeds, mannerisms, personality, or other important characteristics about a person become so well known by others, that you’ve heard about that person before you’ve ever personally met them.
The expression can be either good or bad, depending on the elements of the reputation. It is, afterall, better to be known for good things than bad things. Although we usually apply it to noteworthy people, the truth is that it applies to anyone who is actively doing anything with their life. If you are involved in life, chances are that people who don’t know you are going to have heard something about you before they meet you. They are going to have heard things from people they know, who also know you, or from people they know who have had interactions with you. This is a very important point. Humans are social beings. We live in networks and depend on each other. If we develop a bad reputation, our name becomes associated with those bad things, and people will make judgements about us based on what they’ve heard. A person who has a name for dishonesty will be shunned by the community as a means of protection. A person who has a name for fairness, generosity, kindness, or love will usually be embraced by the community.
An unfortunate truth is that it is easier to tarnish your name than to shine it up. Shining it up can take consistent work over time, but ruining that shine can happen in a single instance. Consider how a man with the cleanest reputation in town can be ruined by a single bad decision to engage in unethical or immoral behavior. The bible understands this well. The writer of Proverbs argues that a good name or reputation is better than silver or gold ( Proverbs 22:1). In one graphic verse, Solomon compares the ruining of a good name to how a single dead fly can ruin a bottle of perfume, by causing it to be a stench for anyone who may want to use it ( Ecclesiastes 10:1).
This importance of name doesn’t just apply to individuals. It applies to everyone associated with an individual. Your name can have an impact on your family’s reputation, your works’ reputation, or your church’s reputation. And while we can’t help that evil people may gossip and lie about us, we must do our best to live in such a way that the goodness of our reputation precedes us ( 1 Peter 2:12). What name are you making for yourself, your family, your church or your community?