Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to be sharing name stories from the lovely Marilyn. She was kind enough to write in and ask if I was still accepting them. The answer is yes, yes, yes! 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. Enjoy!
If I love words, who can wonder that I also love names, and I especially love the names I have been a part of creating – or perhaps I should say discovering – for my children?
Discovering, because names have a way of both shaping and reflecting the essence of a person, and I don’t yet know all the places that my children’s names touch and fail to touch who they really are. I know, of course, that the echoes of a name change throughout the time one bears that name, and that each of us have multiple names and multiple identities. I don’t pretend to know everything my children will be, and I don’t presume to have captured even all they were or could be as I searched for their names when they were babies. Still, I can’t shake a feeling that there is something deep and powerful about the act of naming; that it somehow brings together a certain set of hopes and possibilities and casts them around the one being named, like a blanket that can both encompass and protect.
And whether or not my children feel that their names reflect all they are (and of course, they will not), I hope they will see them as true gifts from their parents, combining things we saw in them, things we hoped for them—and even a few things we had no way of knowing or wishing, but which have emerged later as serendipitous reflections of some pre-formed identity we perhaps only sensed at their births.
Name Story #1
To our son Abraham Thomas, this is the gift of your name:
Although I said I didn’t have a preference about what sex my first baby would be, I was so happy to have a son first because I knew what a safe and comforting thing it was to have an older brother. We knew we wanted a name for you that would reflect the combination of strength and gentleness we hoped you would have, and “Abraham” was a name I had loved for years because of those very qualities. It brought to mind both confidence and humility. These qualities were found in the Biblical Abraham, of course. Abraham reminds us of promises, and of total devotion and submission to God. He laid a strong foundation for those who followed him in the covenant (Isaac, Jacob, all the way down) just as we hoped you, as oldest, would help us set the tone for a family culture of love and support for your siblings.
We also liked the association with Abraham Lincoln, a great president and courageous man. He had a great deal of integrity and is worth remembering.
Your middle name “Thomas” recognizes Dylan Thomas, a troubled man, but one of my favorite poets anyway. I love the hopeful reminder that beauty can emerge and flourish, even within a flawed and difficult life. Dylan Thomas shares a birth month with you and wrote “Poem in October”, which has these beautiful lines:
“A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder…
These were the woods the river and sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.”
We hoped, Abe, that you would be this kind of boy, noticing and communing with the “trees and the stones and the fish in the tide,” and loving the mysteries and the wonders of the earth and the sky. And you already do—you love the season of Fall for its abundance, and you love learning and studying the world around. From the time you, as a tiny boy, ran into our room exclaiming “I love everything!”, you have seemed unusually sensitive to the feelings and needs of those close to you.
Abraham Thomas, we hoped that your namesakes would inspire you to a life of integrity; to desire to follow God’s will, and—no matter your circumstances—to always see, enjoy, and marvel at the beauty in the world around you.
To our son Sebastian Dane, this is the gift of your name:
We felt strongly about your name from the time you were born, even though it was just one of several on a list when we entered the hospital. Our main association with “Sebastian” was Johann Sebastian Bach, the Father of Modern Music and one of the greatest composers that has ever lived.
We love Bach not just for his music, but for his life–he was a loving family man, who took good care of and loved his children (twenty of them!). He is sometimes called “the fifth evangelist” (after Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible). For many years, he wrote a new organ cantata every Sunday. His fugues—so complex, yet full of such clarity and balance—are some of my favorite pieces, but I love many others of his works as well.
There are two stories about Bach that remind me of you, even when you were just a baby. As an expert in both organ-playing and organ-building (which sounds like you as well—you have an insatiable need to know how everything works!), Bach was called in to test organs all over Germany. He used to say, “Above all I must know whether the organ has a good lung!”, and then, pulling out all the stops, he would produce the largest sound possible, often making the watching organ builders go pale with fright. You, yourself, clearly had “a good lung” as a baby, but even soon after growing out of that, you loved noise: not just any noise, but loud, powerful music; stirring music; marching music. When we took you to concerts, your smile would grow so wide during the loud parts that we thought your face might crack. In particularly exciting passages, you would break out into happy, involuntary laughter, often putting your hands up over your mouth and just shivering with glee.
There are also stories recounting how Bach liked to keep himself busy, and that he was always in a hurry. One famous portrait of him is done very quickly, with almost sloppy brushstrokes and few details. The artist complained that Bach would never sit still long enough for him to finish the portrait properly! That, too, reminded us of your infant self—you arrived, without regard to whether we were ready for you or not, two weeks early, and you kept up your unstoppable pace for the next several years, always seeming to be leaning forward toward the next milestone, the next mountain to conquer. You never seemed to rest and be content, but were always pushing forward for something more.
Your long, strong fingers (even as a baby!) also had me hoping you would also find joy through playing the piano, as I have, or perhaps through some other work with your hands.
We named you Dane as a commemoration of your Danish heritage. As the grandson of Danish immigrants on both sides of your family, we wanted you to know about and honor the good things that these ancestors have done for us. We have many songs, foods, sayings, and traditions that are part of our lives because of our Danish roots.
Sebastian Dane, we hoped that as Bach’s namesake, you would be led to love all the arts and to seek spiritual enlightenment through great music. We hoped you would love to create, and that you would nurture and be excited about all the creative gifts you possess. We hoped you could enjoy both the simplicities and the complexities of life. We hoped, also, that you would remember how many of the Danes in your family crossed the plains with the Mormon pioneers, and worked hard to build a new life in Utah. Like Bach, they were resourceful and intelligent, and they learned that they could do hard things with God’s help. We hoped you would emulate their faith, work ethic, and determination when you were faced with challenges in your own life.
Thanks again to Marilyn for sharing her thoughts on choosing names for her sons Abraham and Sebastian. Marilyn is the mother of five, and stories about her three younger children’s names will be posted next Saturday, July 20th.
Original photo credit: Lunchbox Photography via Flickr