Shakespeare promised us that a name is just a name: “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But how many hours, I wonder, did he agonize over his characters’ names? Seriously, if he’d gone with Harold and Bertha instead of Romeo and Juliet, would it have ever caught on as a classic? I have my doubts.
There’s something about a name that does more than just identify a person; it both reflects a person’s character and shapes it. It evokes any number of feelings, from sweet nostalgia to PTSD. A name says something about where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
I recently received a delightful book from a friend called Other-Wordly: Words Both Strange and Lovely from around the World. It’s filled with words from other languages that capture something we’ve all felt but perhaps haven’t been able to pin down with words. Cases in point:
Did you know there’s actually a word in Japanese that refers to the habit of buying books and not reading them . . . of letting books pile up unread on your floor or nightstand? Somehow when you can diagnose yourself with a case of tsundoku, it feels more justifiable.
And you know that certain homesickness you feel about a home you can’t return to or the nostalgia you feel for the lost places of your past? Take comfort in knowing this is a real thing. It’s called hiraeth in Welsh.
And that hesitation you experience when introducing someone because you forgot their name? It’s called tartling. You’re welcome.
There’s something satisfying about finding just the right words to name something.
Daniel and I are now on the countdown until we meet our baby. There was something about hearing the doctor say the phrase “third trimester” that caused a jolt of panic to run through me. Forget painting the nursery or packing a hospital bag—what we really need to get serious about is choosing a name for this little person. (As catchy as Spark is, I can’t quite see that making it on the birth certificate.)
But how do you choose a name for someone you’ve never met? How do you encapsulate all your hopes and dreams for a person in a mere string of letters?
There are so many things to consider: Do you name the baby after someone you admire, or do you let them be their own person? How can you make sure the name isn’t too trendy but also not too weird? How can you possibly think of all the ways other kids might twist the name (or the initials) to tease your child on the playground someday? And what if you name your kid something with lots of r’s and it turns out they have a lisp?
Goodness, this is a lot of pressure. Especially when you’re talking about an innocent sevenish-pound bundle who won’t be able to pose an objection for quite some time.
I’ve always loved what the book of Revelation says about how one day our heavenly Father will give his children a new name: “I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
There’s something intimate implied in that new name-giving . . . that God is so well acquainted with us that he knows exactly what name will fit. He will give us a name that describes us perfectly—our unique personalities, our deepest hopes, our most cherished dreams. It will be a name that describes our unique calling, an invitation to step more and more into the identity he’s crafted for us.
And so I guess that takes some pressure off our naming duty in the here-and-now. Because even if we don’t pick the perfect name, our baby will get a new name someday . . . a name chosen by his or her heavenly Father.
Still, I hope it isn’t Bertha.