“Do you have a name picked out?” I asked the future first time parents. I really didn’t think it would be an awkward question. I had asked countless expectant mothers the same question, but there was a pause I didn’t understand. I looked from face to face as the silence roared.
“Yes.” they answered in unison. They looked at me expectantly. I still didn’t understand.
“OK.” I said and laughed a little too strongly.
“We just can’t tell you.”
“The Native American culture has a ritual that they tell their child their name before they can tell anyone else.”
“Sounds neat, but you are from Minnesota.” I joked a little too strongly. “What made you decide to adopt that ritual, what’s it mean to you?” I asked, a little too curious to not ask.
“The idea is that how you are named affects who you will be. The name should be accepted by the baby before it is to become their label and anchor for a lifetime. Whispering the baby’s name to them allows for the first contact between us and this new baby to be us offering a life and name with us before we have created any life for them with other people.”
That was years ago and I can still remember the feeling when they told me that and the feeling when their baby was born. (I can’t remember the name, however.) The feeling of tingles and excitement for this baby still are palpable. I really loved the idea that this child would be given a name all his own from loving and adoring parents. The name had not been shared with anyone until the moment the child received it all in a whisper.
My girls and ex wife will never know that I held each of my children in the next few days. I read them a book and laid with them until they fell asleep. As they breathed heavily and rhythmically, I whispered their name and what I saw in them that soared. Both times, I cried. My ex will never know that I woke up in the middle of the night a few nights later. I looked at her and whispered her name. I whispered the things I saw in her as well. Truthfully, one of the things I whispered was, “Forgiveness.” Another was “willingness to grow.”
When I remembered this a few weeks ago, I understood how someone would not receive their name.
I think we are named over and over again in our lives. I think there is the birth name. That name can indeed shape some of who you are. We live into that name through our childhood. It becomes an identity. As we receive it while we grow from infant to toddler. I think friends give us a name as well. Usually “Booger Head,” or something. We get names based on our personality and behavior. Some are named athlete, or brain, or crybaby. We accept them as social order as kids. We grow and get names such as “party animal”, “jokester”, or “hippee”. Sometimes spouse or parent becomes our name. We can accept or deny our names. Sometimes, painfully, we can change our names.
There is a time that we are at a crossroads. Sooner or later, everyone is there. It is rock bottom for the alcoholic. It is turmoil for the disciplined. It is an illness, it is a childbirth, it is even the first job. We reach a moment that we are childlike again. We believe as a child once again. The world implodes, we are at once afraid and comforted. We lie in bed, covers over our head, relieved and terrified. Its at that moment that God whispers our name. The name varies, but always means the same, “Beloved.”