Editor’s note: Last Saturday, the thoughtful Marilyn shared the stories behind her first two children’s names with us. She and her husband have chosen names rich with meaning and personal significance.
To our son Malachi Norris, this is the gift of your name:
As I held you in the hospital that first night thinking about what to name you, I had a sudden feeling of clarity as I considered the name Malachi. Malachi means “My messenger” (i.e. God’s messenger) and I saw clearly that you had been God’s messenger to me. I found out I was pregnant with you at a very difficult and critical time in my life, and your existence helped guide me toward which path to take. You also helped give me purpose and feel God’s love during times of uncertainty and pain.
We chose Norris for your middle name because of the poet Leslie Norris, a wonderful man and one of my most influential teachers. He was funny and insightful as a teacher, and he didn’t tolerate laziness in his students, but there was a peace about him that seemed deep and abiding.
He taught me many things about language, and the power found in observation of the natural world. He had a deep and loving spirituality that manifested itself in great humility, and in sympathy with all his fellow creatures. He loved birds and animals. He was an intense recorder of the natural world—he had an uncommon connection with it, in some way, I think. He wrote,
“There are men, they are born with it,
who have the gift of calling…
For them the sky fills with wildfowl. The lines of flight
clamor for them, for them the sanderling
and redshank patter at the tide’s withdrawing runnels.
They turn, in quiet beds, at a flake of snow…
[They] call again and again, the note rising,
an elegy for vulnerable creatures,
the hare, the partridge, runners and low fliers…
The birds have given them the cold, wide sky
They have given them dreams of innocence.
They have given them voices.”
Leslie Norris, himself, had this “gift of calling,” and we wished that same gift for you—the gift of caring for and understanding others, those “vulnerable creatures” that need compassion and love. You were such a sweet, delightful, loving baby, I think Daddy and I both knew you’d be someone special; someone that had much of value to share with those around you. When you, at three years old, somehow managed to reach out and stroke the feathers of a friendly robin in our yard (thus fulfilling one of the dearest dreams of your young life), I thought maybe such a gift was already manifesting itself in you, your innate gentleness apparent even then.
Malachi Norris, we hoped that your namesakes would inspire you to empathy, humility, and patience with others, in spite of their (and your) faults and differences. We hoped your heart would turn with love to those around you rather than focusing in on yourself, and we hoped this outward focus would also help you have a true vision of God’s love and His gifts to you in the natural world. We hoped you would always be able to see and feel the beauty of His creations, and that this ability would bring you peace.
When you were born, you turned your little black eyes immediately upward and stared at me. I’d never seen any baby so alert and bright-eyed. Daddy and I both commented on it. “Look at her bright little eyes!” we exclaimed again and again. “She sees us; she’s thinking about us!”
We’d been deliberating for months and months about your name by then. Without knowing if you were a girl or a boy, though, we never really got serious about it. After the midwives left and we sat in bed holding you and talking to you while the sun came up, we went through our girl list again. I had thought you might be Violet, a name I love. But you kept those bright eyes fixed trustingly on our faces, and we knew you’d be Daisy, then—that brave, bright little flower. Daisies were named for the “day’s eye,” you know, meaning the sun, the brightest eye of all. Daisies are beautiful, but not just beautiful—they’re so resilient, cheerful, and tenacious. Even the tiny ones turn their little faces up so bravely toward the sun. When I was pregnant with you, your brothers and I would go out in the mornings and walk through the daisy fields by the lake. The boys would run through the flowers, sometimes picking little bouquets which they would present to me proudly. We lay in the sun dreaming of who you would be. We all loved you already.
We didn’t name you Margaret, though we considered it, but for me that name (Marguerite is “Daisy” in French) is connected to you as well. Your name reminds me of one of my favorite books, Little Women (Meg names a daughter Margaret/Daisy), and of the queen of Denmark, who is called “Daisy” too! It also reminds me of your cousin Meg, your Aunt Marguerite, and of one of my favorite poems. It’s by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and begins,
“Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”
We wished for you the heightened awareness that Margaret in this poem shows; the love of the natural world and the sympathy with other people that goes along with a sensitive and loving nature. We hoped your namesake, the brave daisy flower, would inspire you to not be afraid to live life fully and to feel things deeply, even when such feelings cause pain.
That day you were born, we named you Aurora too; Aurora to remind us, and you, of the dawn that morning. From my bed as I held my new pink bundle, I could see the dawning light over the earth. And that sunrise! The pinks and oranges started out so delicate and hopeful, coming over our mountains. Then they blazed up like fire. You were like that to us, Daisy Aurora: that sudden light. That shining morning, full of promise. Every day your name gets more appropriate for you: our bright-dawning morning, our bright little flower, always turning to the light.
Your name, Juniper, is one of my favorites, with its combination of lightness and strength, earth and sky. It seemed especially right after the way you came to the world. For me, it was four days of labor; dreamlike haze interspersed with sharp awareness and heightened focus; bursts of confidence mixed with uncertainty and nagging self-doubt. For you, I don’t know what it was like, but I sensed your strength and your serenity and your certainty through it all. And so it seemed only fitting that your namesake should be, not a fragile plant, not anything frilly or merely decorative, but something with beauty and strength grown together. I could sense in you from the beginning a calmness, an unhurried outlook, and a clarity in following your own instincts. I trusted that you had come into the world on your own terms, and with the timing that was right for you.
In spite of their beautiful lace-patterned, fern-like leaves, juniper trees aren’t at all fragile. They are graceful in their surety. They survive—no, they thrive—in droughts, in deserts, in the thin mountain air. They grow, strong and evergreen, toward the sun.
We chose “Lark,” with its whimsy and lightness, to remind you of the rising Springtime light that appeared over the mountains as you were born. Your sister Daisy Aurora was born at the exact same time of morning—almost to the minute—and as I held you, I remembered holding her and feeling the same sense of energy—the same swelling of joy and excitement at the awakening of the new, blossoming life I held in my arms. We wanted the hopeful swell of birdsong to be a symbol to you of the possibilities in your life, of the chance for renewal and enlightenment that can dawn for you with the coming of every morning, if you will allow it to.
“A song of light, [which] pierces air
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d…,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight…”
We can see such delight and exuberance in you already; such happiness in being alive!
Juniper Lark, we hoped that your namesakes would remind you of the importance of being grounded, rooted in faith and trust in God, so that you can be strong and resilient; ready to withstand whatever challenges come. But we also hoped you would discover a love of flight, of song and music, of Springtime and morning light—that you would find joy in facing new experiences and that you would be grateful for the enlarged perspective that each one would bring you.
So much thanks to Marilyn for sharing these! I love how much meaning is layered in each choice.
If you’d like to share your story of how you named your child or children – whether it was last week or years ago – please write to appmtn (at) gmail (dot) com. And don’t forget to read the first installment in Marilyn’s name stories here.