grown ups are like that....

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What's in a Name?

When I was pregnant with my second child I would wander the cemetery looking for baby names. My husband and I already had a boy's name picked out, but a girl's name still eluded us. So I would wander up to the unkempt and lonely cemetery a few blocks from our house. It was always empty, and I liked that I could stand in front of the graves of long dead women and pronounce their names aloud without being observed. I felt like I was actually chewing on the words, tasting them in big, noisy gulps.

Pearl- I liked this one, and I came back to it often. It felt smooth and concise and rolled easily between gums and teeth and cheek. Yet it was also a bit cold, and I ultimately spit it out.

Sabrah had an edge to it, but I liked it. It felt strong, and I pictured a long legged wild-child of a girl fighting with me at every turn. I tossed it out like an apple with a bruise on its shoulder.

Llewlla simple had too many L's for its own good.

Addie was sweet but lacked any crunch, so that was set aside, too.

Finally we settled on a name that I never saw on any grave and that we thought was simple and lovely and perfect: August Rose.

Then we had a boy.


We wander that cemetery as a family now. We do simple grave rubbings, pick black raspberries from along the fence, and just sit and watch the clouds roll by. My children are not afraid of those who rest there, and we almost feel as if this is "our" cemetery now.

My kids, too, have become interested in the unusual names that can be found on the crumbling gravestones. My daughter always brings a notebook with her on our visits and has lists and lists of names carefully copied from the stones or grave rubbings. What was it like, we think, to walk around wearing Eleazar, Waterman, or Oneida as a name? Did the name feel heavy like their layers of Victorian clothing? Or did it fit as comfortably and easily as one of today's common names (Jennifer, Hayden, Hunter)?

Some of the most intriguing names keep us talking long after we've returned home and brushed the fall leaves off of our coats and had our tea or hot cider . . .

Wealthy Payne--Was this a hope her parents set on her shoulders at birth? Or was she the little gift that made them feel like rich and and lucky parents?

Silence Babcock-- Did her parents truly prize this virtue? Did she end up being a quiet child, or did she rebel against her name and become raving and loud, shouting to the heavens?

Azubah Carpenter--Was this an ancient name from the bible? Or a family name from a time long before his birth?

Halloween is coming up, and like many people I will take this time to think of those who have passed on from my life. Because of distance I cannot visit my father's grave or the graves of my grandparents or my friends. Instead I will gather the children, and we will walk to our little cemetery and honor, in our way, those who rest there. We will stand in front of the graves and say the names of the dead out loud releasing them into the air like ether.


Liz said...

Beautiful :) I find a peace in cemeteries and love looking at the names and imagining the lives of the person beyond the headstone...thanks for sharing!

Momma said...

Do you remember how we used to spend time a cemeteries when you and V were kids?

Nan | Wrath Of Mom said...

I love this post. It's beautiful & evocative and I'm such a name nerd that I relate to your curiosity/fascination. Though I don't like going to grave yards because I'm convinced that I'll see my own name on a tombstone & then a serial killer will pop up and kill me RIGHT THERE. Erm. Yes, I have an overactive imagination.

slouchy said...

I like cemeteries, too. Esp. the really old ones. They smell like history.

InTheFastLane said...

Names are interesting...did the people in the cemetery, feel their names? Do we feel ours? Or do we define our name?


Chaotic Joy said...

I love this Christine. I can't believe how long it's been since I've been here but your words are just as lovely as ever.