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?