Name Dropping

When you work for a newspaper, one thing you get used to is odd baby names.

Sometimes it’s a twist in spelling, like the Sheila named “Shelia.” Or a rising trend, like those angels in a mirror named “Nevaeh.” At one point, place names like Madison or Montana began to take off; a co-worker teased that if kids were going to be labeled with their place of origin, we might see “Chevrolet” before too long.

You smile. Sometimes you laugh. Once in a great while, you wonder what the parents were thinking. (“Marion Butts? Really?”)

But the honorable Lu Ann Ballew didn’t stop at wondering. The Tennessee judge acted, saying a family had no right to name its child “Messiah.”

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has been earned by only one person,” Bellew declared in resetting the baby’s name to “Martin.”

Psst. No one tell her about all the Latino families who have named their children “Jesus,” OK?

The thing is, we’ve been here before. Usually with a foreign court. The one that sticks in my mind is the New Zealand judge who barred a family from naming their child “4real Wheaton.” This act of humanity clearly saved a young boy from years of humiliation and ridicule … or at least, it might have, if Mom and Dad’s backup choice hadn’t been “Superman.”

Phone booth not included.

What can I say? Names are powerful, even the ones that don’t happen to come from Krypton. They reflect who we are. Sometimes they even shape it. They show our hopes and dreams, our values and fancies, maybe even our incipient insanity.

And trust me. Trying to block that force is an exercise in futility.

Don’t like titles as a name? Watch out for Fletcher (maker of arrows), Chandler (candle maker) or Tanner.

No religious exclamations? Then thou shalt not touch Elizabeth (“Oath of God”), Michael (“Who is Like God?”) or Joshua (“God is Salvation”).  Never mind the bus driver a few years ago who legally changed his name to In God We Trust.

We’ve used virtues from Chastity to Justice. We’ve used place names, plant names, colors, promises of royalty. We’ve even hit the produce aisle at the supermarket, not just with the infamous “Apple,” but with more time-tested monikers like Cherry.

Come to think of it, I’m not sure that any name out there can really qualify as unusual anymore. Though I’m still grateful to my parents for not naming me “Walter.” (Sorry, Mr. Disney.)

I’m not saying that naming a child should be a frivolous exercise. Quite the opposite. With great power comes great responsibility as Peter Parker (“Rock Forest Ranger”) once declared. And probably a great number of arguments as well, as Mom and Dad swerve between trying to be unique and trying to avoid getting a child beaten on the playground.

But such a powerful choice must be a personal one. It’s really not a place for a judge, except by invitation.

So thank you, your honor. Thanks for recognizing how important a name is. But I think the rest of us can take it from here.

And if we wind up with the occasional Picabo Street, or Moon Unit Zapppa, or even Messiah (762 boys last year, according to the New York Times), well, so be it.

After all, that’s the name of the game.

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One Response to Name Dropping

  1. Katherin Engelhard says:

    Hi again, Scott.

    Enjoyed this column this morning… you are a creative, insightful, skillful writer whose writings I thoroughly enjoy. I get fascinating glimpses into your life, into your thinking, your perspectives, attitudes and ideals, often the wording touching the depths of my soul, causing me to introspect, evaluate and ponder the orbits of our life, the orbits that intersect or concur with ours.

    And I wanted to respond again last Thursday to your “An Orbit Observed”, but I was occupied with myriad things and did not get the chance, or did not take the time perhaps, even just sorting out what had happened that I wanted to tell you and dealing with the grief and wonder of it all.

    First of all, your clock is still off. Maybe it’s a clock-off, off-clock, or perhaps you like being off the clock. Sometimes I’m a little off-clock, a “way over yonder in the minor key,” as my Uncle Woody (Guthrie) wrote. “But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me, no there ain’t nobody that can sing like me… a-way over yonder in the minor key. Way over yonder in the minor key.” Sometimes I feel we hit and resonate on the same minor chord on occasion, perhaps an orbit crossing momentarily. And it was a pleasure and delight to meet you in person. I do tend to cherish people.

    But your off-clock clocked me clocking comment at 6:34 a.m. Aug. 22. It was more just a little past midnight I submitted the comment. But it reads, 6:34… which is okay… in fact it’s pretty amazing and good in ways I won’t get into here. 6:34.

    What I want to share with you is that, of course, I wanted to comment on “An Orbit Observed” from the time I read it … weeping…, but did not comment until Wed. night/Thursday a.m. midnightish, the thoughts persistent in my heart to share. The thoughts about how fast a life can vanish. How we lost our friend, Tom is his name, so very suddenly, and we need to take the time, as you mentioned in your column to treasure every moment with people, and to reach out in kindness, compassion, patience and understanding, realizing we don’t see the entire picture. We don’t fully know or comprehend the pain, suffering, heartache or loneliness others may be enduring. Perhaps a touch of humanity—kindness—empathy—love could ease another person’s journey. This life and this world can be a tough place. Some pretty dim and bumpy orbits out there, you know.

    So I submitted my comments to you just past midnight and went to bed thinking of ol’ Tom, and people, how fast they can be gone, and what I’d written. First thing in the morning I got phone call. A friend asked me, “I just heard that Lee Gee was killed last night in a car wreck. Do you know if this is true? Supposedly she’d left a church meeting in rural Weld County and had a fatal collision on the way home.”

    WHAT??? Lee Gee???? My dear dear friend that loves my family and cherishes my oldest son, Elden, so so much (some people just tend to be heroes in ways we don’t fully understand, yet there they are—heroes—like Superman falling from the sky into your life.)
    Lee Gee, she whose husband’s funeral/memorial service I just attended about 12 days ago at the church my friend just died after leaving last night?? I drove that same rural road home. I crossed 85 where she had the collision. Yes—I called the church—it was true. My dear friend lost her life that Wednesday night at Highway 85 and WCR 22.

    It was sobering and hit me very hard. I will greatly miss this woman.
    The orbit of her life coincided occasionally, sometimes frequently, with mine; she brought me much joy. So full of life and love and hope and goodness and kindness she was. It was always uplifting and a pleasure to see or talk to her.

    But again it makes me think, “Am I making the most of every moment with people? Treasuring every blessed moment with and aspect of people? How abruptly their orbit can be terminated, dissolved, and they vanish from this, yes, ‘all-too-short time here.’”
    My only comfort is in my faith. In knowing that through the redeeming power of Christ’s sacrifice on Mt. Calvary, through the atonement of His shed blood, we will meet again in the Resurrection, in the eternal world to come. All through the mercy, grace and loving-kindness of the Living God, Blessed be His Name.

    The embers of her orbit, though, because of the brightness of the light in her life, remain in my heart, a spark, a memory of a life well-lived. A life of compassion and blessing others.

    Thank you for such a touching and inspiring column.

    And I am sorry for the passing of Haley. Perhaps she will be there in the world to come. Nothing is too hard for God, you know.

    Katherin Engelhard

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