When my youngest daughter was about two years old she came across a tattered paperback on our bookshelves, Ten Thousand Baby Names, and for a little while this was her favorite book. Drawn by the shining face of the baby on the cover, she brought it to me over and over and demanded that I read through the names. This was prelude to what was, at the time, her favorite story of all: How we chose her name.
What’s in a name? Always, there is a story. You were named for a beloved relative or, contrarily, named after no one because your parents wanted a clean break from family history. If you were a first son and your family went in for such things, you got to be called after your father and have “junior” tacked on. If you were a daughter, you could be named for a virtue or aspiration such as Hope, Serenity, or Faith. Recalling some sweet romantic setting, your parents might have named you for their favorite Spanish or Italian village. Perhaps you carry the name of one of their heroes or heroines, or more whimsically, some favorite musician or movie star. Maybe you’ve ended up with an affectionate nickname born of a sibling’s mispronunciation, or some jackass thing you tried as an adolescent and never lived down.
Always, there is a story.
In church on Sunday mornings we read aloud the names of the American soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan each week. Alone in my study the night before, I speak each name out loud and then wonder about the stories. I imagine these soldiers as the babies they once were, held in someone’s arms at a baptism or naming ceremony. The proud relatives gathered around as the name was formally bestowed, and everyone beamed as the baby cooed or wailed or fidgeted. There was so much gladness and pride in each moment of naming, and not once did anyone imagine that the road their baby walked would end eighteen or twenty years later in a mix of blood and dust halfway around the world.
As part of a witness for peace on Memorial Day, a cairn of stones was built at a busy downtown intersection in Hartford, each stone bearing the name of a fallen American soldier, or one of the tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have died in these wars. How do you choose one name from thousands, to symbolize so much carnage and loss? I finally brought three stones to the cairn, one for each of my own three children. Each stone bore the name of a child who had died on the birthday of one of mine. As I placed the stones, I wondered about their names.
Always, there is a story.