Saturday, April 10, 2010

What's In a Name?

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
                                       -- William Shakespeare

It is true that the name of a thing doesn't change the essence of the thing. A rose really would smell just the same whether it were called a rose, a cloud, a lamp, or a grave. The essence of the rose would not differ just because of its name. In fact, the reason why most of us probably consider the word rose to be pleasant is because of the thing that it names--rather than the name affecting our perception of the thing, the thing affects our perception of the name. We probably would not have such a positive attitude toward the word rose if it described, not a fragrant flower, but a putrid body odor.

The same thing holds true with human names. There are names that I never particularly liked, until I met some wonderful person who happened to have that name, and now I have a more favorable opinion of the name itself. There are names that I used to love, until I met some arrogant or cruel person who happened to have that name, and now I dislike the name itself. But to some degree, the opposite also holds true with human names. The names that we give sometimes seem to affect the character or personality of the child who is named. Of course, it may just be that certain types of parents give certain types of names and also engage in certain parenting behaviors that tend to result in certain types of children--a mother who names her child "Elizabeth" or "Matthew" will probably raise that child in a much more traditional way than a mother who names her child "Apple" or "Thor." Human names also can affect the way people view the person who carries the name--we tend to have a stereotype of "Martha" that is very different from our stereotype of "Delilah."

Given names are not the most important attribute of a person, but they are important, for the reasons stated above. Naming a child is one of the great privileges--and great responsibilities--of parenthood. It can be a difficult decision, but it's also one of the more fun tasks, provided that Mom and Dad both go into it with a positive and flexible attitude.

Yes, Jeff and I have been discussing names for our preborn daughter.

Yes, we have come to a decision. (No, we have not yet chosen a backup boy's name, just in case the doctor's "pretty certain" turns out not to be certain enough. We will choose one, but we haven't done it yet.)

Yes, we're announcing that name today.

No, not quite yet--you'll have to keep reading if you want to know :)

The first bit of the name that we decided on actually was the middle name. Jeff mentioned long ago--before we even married--that he would love to name his firstborn daughter after his paternal grandmother. He used to go visit his grandparents on their farm for the summer when he was a child, and he has wonderful memories of the time he spent there. Later, his grandmother moved into an assisted living facility near his father's home, and Jeff visited her as much as he was able. She died a year or so before we married, and it was a very difficult time for Jeff. So when he said that he would like to name his daughter after her, it didn't occur to me to refuse. However, I did negotiate with him--I asked if he would accept his grandmother's name as his daughter's middle name rather than as her first name. I freely admit that my preference was due to a superficial--but important to me--factor. His grandmother's name starts with the letter R. When I was a child, I had to attend speech therapy because my Rs sounded like Ws. I speak more clearly now, but there have been moments throughout my life when the R sound just wouldn't come out correctly, and I was teased unmercifully by a few schoolmates. I often feel slightly self-conscious when saying words beginning with R, so you can imagine my chagrin at the thought of going through the rest of my life with an R-named daughter! Luckily, Jeff was fine with the request, even before I explained why I made it.

Because we already had the middle name picked out, all that was left to us recently was to choose the first name. It was important to me that the name we chose be pretty and meaningful. I also would like for it not to be too common, but all of my favorites were more common than I prefer, so I focused instead on the meaning and on how it sounds with the middle name we chose and with our last name. I love the idea that names' meanings could influence the child's character, and I greatly appreciate the meaning of the middle name we chose: it means friend.

I considered several meaningful first names that sounded nice with the middle and last names our daughter will have. Jeff considered a few. I got stuck on one of the first ones that I considered--a name of Greek origin that means defender. I love the idea of my daughter being a defender. A defender of truth, of justice, of any younger siblings we may eventually give her. And I like how it combines with her middle name: defender-friend. A defender of her friends, a friend of those who defend. Someone strong and principled enough to be a defender, and caring and personable enough to be a friend. In my mind, it was perfect.

Eventually, Jeff agreed with me. So we have a name. Would you like to hear it?

Alexa Ruth.

Our daughter, the defender-friend. I can't wait to meet her.


  1. Ruth is my grandma's name and I hope to use it as well one day. Alexa Ruth sounds beautiful!

  2. Aww that's pretty! I like the meaning too... those are important to me, I don't like the idea of using a name if it means something bad or off...

  3. Deborah, While we have never met I have known Jeff and Jeanne for a long time and find it special that Jeanne and Alexa will share the name Ruth. Family names are wonderful. Congratulations!


  4. Oh I absolutely LOVE IT!!!!!


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