What’s in a name?

Twice in the past month we have sat among hordes of beaming family and friends in crowded arenas, eagerly listening for our child’s name to be called in the time-honored ritual of graduation.  Such events can go by in a blur, so I’m grateful to my friend Laura over at the Mothering Spirit blog for reminding me that names matter.  Her post took me back to the days of poring over name books, choosing and discarding possibilities until clarity emerged. We never told anyone our choices until the child arrived, partly because we wanted to confirm that the name still felt right once we met him or her and partly because we didn’t want to hear any critiques.  People seemed less likely to comment on a name once given to the baby in our arms as compared to hearing a name for someone not yet born.  Joe and I also agreed that we both had to feel completely comfortable and good about our selections; there could be no ambivalence on either side about something with lifelong significance.

Christian Joseph Conway
Last week our third child became our final high school graduate. By the time he was expected, we were a little stumped for mutually acceptable boys’ names not already taken by close friends and family. We also had added requirements for a saint’s name and a name with family resonance, so the bar was high.  We liked “Christian” paired with his dad’s name in the middle but weren’t sure there was a saint by that name. No Google search available then, so we purchased a paperback Oxford Dictionary of Saints that had an entry for a 12th century Irish St. Christian, who was a Cistercian monk, abbot and bishop though few other facts of his life are known.  That’s not a problem for our Christian. He charts his own path.

Kieran Eileen Conway
Our middle child and only daughter is now halfway through college. When we were discerning her name, friends loaned us a name book that had been purchased in Ireland, and we liked the sound of “Kieran,” rather blithely overlooking the fact that it’s actually a boy’s name.  Ireland has at least two 6th century saints by this name with varied spellings.  One was an abbot known as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland for his work in setting up monasteries, and the other was a bishop.  We especially liked naming our daughter after a bishop!  Her middle name is that of a dear aunt on Joe’s side.  Kieran was only a few hours old when I briefly wondered if we had been too adventurous in our naming; every time I said her name, I’d had to spell it. By the time she was two, when someone asked her name, with complete poise and confidence she would say “Kieran, K-I-E-R-A-N, Kieran”– like a spelling bee.  She knows who she is!

Michael Jennings Conway
Our new college graduate’s name was long a favorite one for both Joe and me, and it pretty much chose us right from the start.  This preference never wavered even when our  nephew was given this name only a few months before our son arrived. It’s my older brother’s name, and it’s the name of Joe’s great-grandfather who came from Ireland.  The middle name is my Irish paternal grandmother’s maiden name, which adds a bit of distinctiveness to an otherwise common sounding name.  Though many people of their own volition call him “Mike,” I never, ever do so.  A biblical name, in Hebrew “Michael” means “Who is like God?” – a rhetorical question since no one is like God.  In the Book of Revelation, Michael the archangel leads heaven’s armies.  As these associations suggest, our Michael is a person of strength and determination.

So what’s in a name?  History and origins, and calling to the future.