What’s in a name

Dear Daughter,


There’s a story behind your name.


When I fell pregnant with Son, your papa and I had quite a time trying to agree on a boy’s name. He wanted “Edward” ; I felt it was too grandfather-ish. (This was right before the whole Twilight phenomenon exploded). I always liked “Ethan”, but your papa said, and I tended to agree, that it did not work at all in French. Our one criteria was that it had to work in French and English. I remember we would read through movie posters, credits after films, trying to agree on a name.


With a girl’s name, we agreed right away. It was a name I had always wanted to use as a girl’s name. It is a sassy name, that works in both French and English, in French with a little accent aigu.  I said it to your papa, and he agreed right away. We had our girl’s name.


Of course, we would have to wait until the next pregnancy to put it into place.


Then, there was the issue of middle names. For your brother, we used my father’s first and middle names for his middle name. So he has two middle names. This combination of names has been in my family for four generations, going back to the mid 1800s, although the names on their own go back much further than that, at least back to the 1600s when our ancestors on Grandpa’s side came to America. My father was the IVth with that name combination, but it had stopped when I was born as I have no brothers that it could be passed on to (and anyway, Grandpa always told me, from the time I was a little girl, that he would never have named his son that anyway. He always would have broken with tradition).


I decided, however, that using it as middle names for your brother was a small link with the past, a path back to where you both come from.


For a girl’s middle name, we really had no idea. It took my mother passing, for the answer to come.


When Grandpa, your brother and I went down to Redondo Beach to the funeral home the day after Momie died, to arrange for her burial, the man who was filling out the form for the death certificate asked me my mother’s middle name. I immediately answered : Gabrielle.

That’s where the story begins.

For reasons that have been lost with time, my mother wasn’t given a middle name at birth. In the middle of the cold winter of 1942, in a small German village in Bavaria, maybe there were other concerns going on. I really just don’t know. What happened was that later in life, when she was in her thirties or forties, she chose the name “Gabrielle” for herself as her middle name.


So, you will find it on her death certificate, but not on her birth certificate.


And that’s what I decided to do for your middle name. The middle name that my mother chose for herself. Not because it was given to her, but she chose it.


For me, it is a fitting, beautiful tribute to my mother. I felt that naming you directly after her first name just felt like a very heavy way to start out life. It’s heavy to start out with the name of the person that died while you were in the womb. Naming you her middle name that she chose, well, that is lighter. And it makes for a story..

It gives me comfort to know, also, that in heaven Momie knows your name. She knows your first name because, when she came to visit when your brother was three weeks old, I told her that was what our girl name would have been. She knows your name even if she never got to see you with that name.


And she knows your middle name, because she herself chose it. Decades ago, without even realizing that was what she was doing.


The legacy of your name keeps unfolding itself more and more to me as time goes by. A few days after you were born, I learned that your name means « Life ». Isn’t that something, Daughter ? Life ! In the wake of my sadness about Momie passing, this was a message.


A message of hope. A second life, in a way. A reminder to me, that Momie may have died, but that she had also lived.

And that I was blessed with the gift of life, of your life, and of our life together, all of us, our family.


The second thing I learned, recently, is that, in French, Gabrielle means « Woman of God ». Which is what Momie is now. She is with God.


My one regret about your name is that I didn’t think earlier to do a « prénom composé » with you. By the time I thought of it, you were already at least a month old, too late to change. It would have been nice to bring « Gabrielle » to the forefront. If I had done this, I would have loved to have given you the second middle name of Luna. It would have been a bit of a reference to me, as I am a Cancer, a Moon Child, and I have a moon tattoo that I got years ago in San Francisco.


But I didn’t think of that, and in any case I don’t lose sleep over it. You would have ended up with a five syllable name in that case, which is really pretty long, and who knows if we would have really kept it up. I do occasionally use it informally, I made myself an engraved bracelet with your hyphenated name, and I made your first crèche bag with it too. So I might continue to use it informally.


I’m so pleased with your beautiful name and with how much meaning is instilled into it. Stories that you can carry with you. Not heavy stories, just links to the past.




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