what’s in a name?

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As we start the downward slide toward baby’s arrival, friends and strangers alike ask if we’ve picked a name yet. We have a girl’s name that we love and a boy’s name that we’re still mulling over – the opposite situation of when S was on his way, so perhaps a sign that it’s a girl?

Either way, we’re among that annoying group of parents that don’t share the baby names till s/he arrives. I know this is a conversation downer, but I’ve always figured I don’t need a wealth of opinions, pro or con, for the names we’ve chosen. You can tell right away whether someone likes or dislikes an option that you offer (“Oh! That’s really…different!”), and we’re not really in the market for new suggestions either (“You know what name you should think about? Fill-in-the-random-family-name here.” Splendid, thanks; I’ll be sure to file that away.)

But with that caveat, I do love to hear stories of why parents chose a particular name for their child.

Some name stories are poetic (“We just liked the way it sounded”), some are nostalgic (“We named her after my grandmother”).

Some are hopeful (“It’s a good name to grow into”), some are a statement of faith (“It’s a good Biblical name”).

Some are unexpected (“We had another name picked out, but we changed our minds once we saw him”), some are planned years in advance (“I always wanted to name my child this”).

I’ve been thinking about names as of late, not only because the awesome task of naming a new human being dawns on my horizon, but also because the vocation literature I research often references the power of names in terms of God’s call.

Many of the famous call stories in Scripture feature a re-naming: God turns Abram into Abraham, Sarai into Sarah, Saul into Paul. Names are important for many stories of vocation in the Bible: they give identity and mission; they claim in a fundamental and public way that someone is now God’s Own.

Our own stories all begin with a naming as well. Our names tell us about our parents and their hopes for us. About our families and where we came from. About our beginning in this world and where we have gone since. Perhaps we love our name, perhaps we hate it or decided to change it. But all of our stories begin with a name.

I love the story of how I was named because it ties me to the whole family who welcomed me (my older brother and sister voted on my name along with my parents) as well as to the world of words and literature I have come to love (my name is shared by a favorite author of my mother and a favorite poet of my father).

Were there things I didn’t love about my name as I grew? Certainly: it can’t be easily shortened to a nickname, and I’m a big fan of nicknames; my last name was also a common first name for a girl so people often confused the two. But on the whole, I love my name. And because of the importance of my own name story, I wanted a meaningful one for S as well. I can’t wait to tell him about the men for whom he was named as he grows, hopefully into wisdom and love as they did.

So as our next naming day approaches, I find myself drawn to stories of how people chose their child’s name or how their own parents named them.

If the seeds of our vocation are sown in childhood and often come from those closest to us, then I believe the stories of how and why our names were chosen for us matter. We are, in part, where we come from. And our names stand as a lifelong reminder of the people who first welcomed us into this world.

What is your story? Why did your parents choose your name? Why did you choose the name(s) you picked for your children?

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8 thoughts on “what’s in a name?

    mka said:
    May 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    I chose A’s name because it means “resurrection.” She’s my little resurrection, a sign of the new life that has come with being married.

    Lauren said:
    May 19, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    As you know, I don’t have a child and haven’t had the chance to name one. I do, however, love the story of my naming. (And I love my name too…a lot.) After I was born my parents were still debating my name. Mom was kicking around Alexandria Lea and Lauren Lea. My grandparents announced my name to the famly as Lauren Lea. My father was very angry about this because he wasn’t yet sold on it. He was a high school English teacher and taught the Lord of the Rings in his classes. After my name was “announced,” my parents decided that I would be named Lauren after Lothlorien.

    Had I been a boy, my name would have been Keiran. My mother wanted to spell it Keiran and my dad wanted Kyran. They decided to settle the debate with a game of Scrabble; whoever won the game would get to choose the spelling. My mom won. Several years ago I was going through our old Scrabble box and came across the scoresheet for that game. Rather than put his name down, my mom put her opponent as “Jerk.” I absolutely love this treasure.

    Erica said:
    May 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My 5 all have significant meaning to us. Our first born name we both just liked. But, after talking to family we both discovered her name was on both sides and these women were both known as strong,loving and caring women. Our first born son is my husband and his father’s middle name. His middle name is my brother’s name who died while I was pregnant. Our 3rd born is a combination of my name and her Godmother’s name and she has my exact middle name. Our 4th born and second son is a name I always loved and my nephew’s middle name and a strong biblical name. His middle name is after my father. Finally, our latest blessing was truly our “gift from God” and a child had never even dreamed of. His name is also most of the same letters in our first son’s name. His middle name is a great biblical name and would have been my name if I wad a boy, after my ggf. Long story but so meaningful to us!!

    LKF said:
    May 19, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I love these sacred stories so much – thank you for sharing!

    Amy B said:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    First, we skimmed through the 100,000 baby names book and wrote down names we liked. (A lot of names were eliminated because our last name is so short.). Next, we wrote down their meanings. Finally, we looked up the saints associated with each name to see if we thought it was a “fit” for the baby and our family. We never wanted to tell people either because we didn’t want to know their opinions, especially if we really liked the name. Surprisingly three people guessed our first borne name! Closer to the baby’s birth we would start referring to the baby by his name to see if it would stick.

    We can’t wait to hear your #2’s name proclaimed after the birth! It won’t be long!

    Ginny Kubitz Moyer said:
    May 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    First of all: congrats on the upcoming birth! I too love “naming stories.” Our boys are Matthew and Luke — I’ve always loved the name Matthew (ever since Anne of Green Gables, maybe?). When Boy #2 came along, it was a harder process since we’d already used our “boy name.” But I love the name Luke, in part because Luke’s Gospel has such great treatment of women. And hey, he just LOOKED like a Luke.

    It also enabled my husband to do the inevitable and bust out with the line, “Luke… I am your father.” To his credit, he’s only done it once.

    [...] finally, echoing the post I wrote on name stories, America magazine is running a piece this week by the same name (pun intended!) – a great [...]

    Marie said:
    June 4, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    I love name stories as well! My name is Marie and my mom wanted to name me “Maria”, but my dad thought it sounded to Hispanic (LOL!), so they went with Marie. I love having a Marian name and I am part French, so it is fitting, I think. However, having a VERY common girl’s middle name for a 1st name is a bit confusing sometimes and occasionally, someone will get it mixed up and call me by my middle name (if they see it on a form or something like that). I am currently expecting and we both our girls and boys names that we have chosen have both a Saint connotation and are after members of the family, Anthony and Elizabeth. Thanks for the fun post!

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