My kids were born during a time in my life when my husband and I were very religious: that big religion (you know the one) that demands your kids have a saint’s name stuck in there. Real devotees don’t stick it in the middle and name their kid Schuyler, either. If you’re the real thing, you stick that saint front and center, and you stack them. (This is how people end up with daughters named Mary Elizabeth Catherine, or Catherine Elizabeth Mary, or Elizabeth Catherine Mary). We went the easy way: triple names, but two family names at the end. We only had to come up with the first name. All my three of my sons’ names are religious names.
I’d take back two of them.
I Love the First Name We Chose, Even If It’s A Religious Name
My oldest’s name is totally unique: St. Blaise is very obscure; it was #977 the year he was born. We have yet to meet another one. No one ever mispronounces it. We have to spell it, but the name’s one-syllable, and it’s not something the general populace would hear and say, “huh, that’s one of those super religious names.”
If I could rename him anything, I would still pick it. I love it that much. Though it really is a religious name, it’s stealth, and it doesn’t scream, “MAMA PRAYS FOR ME TO BE A PRIEST.” Most of all, the name fits him. It makes people smile when they hear and say yeah, that’s him, all right.
So I’m Not Condemning Religious Names, Period
So I’m not blanket-condemning religious names. It’s about a problem we have with the religion: we left it. At the time we named our sons, we believed they needed to have religious names, and we named them accordingly. Now I don’t believe it, and I wish I had takebacks. You can’t say “well, you should have thought of that before,” because no one thinks they’re going to leave their religion, especially that one. It’s not a contingency you plan for. In fact, when we did leave it, we were stunned and lost for a very long time.
It’s doesn’t matter what we believe now, and nor does our attitude towards that particular religion (though it’s not very cordial). This isn’t about the religion. Plenty of my friends still belong to it. Right now, I’m regretting the hold this religion exercised on my children’s names. No more and no less. It told me to give my kids religious names. So I gave them all very, very religious names.
And I regret it.
Number 2 is Named After A Total Misogynist
When you delve into the career of St. Augustine, the name we chose for baby #2, you find some pretty appalling rhetoric about women, among other things. But we weren’t that kind of religious people who believed in those kinds of things, so we ignored them. Augustine is constantly mispronounced and often mistaken for a girl’s.
We’ve always shortened it August, which I love. But his overly religious name drags around behind him, persisting through forms and formalities of his life. And while I love his super-hippie nickname, I would choose a super-hippie full name for him today.
In fact, both of my younger children, rather than having overly religious names, would probably have super-hippie names: one of my friends named her kid Bowie and I sort of hate her for the opportunity. Goddammit, I remember thinking at the time. I wish I could have done that. I could have a kid named Moon, like the celestial body and/or drummer from The Who. I could sit and list other choices all day. In the end, I may have just named him for his birth month, November, and called him Ember.
And before you say, “But your husband…” I carried them, barfed for them, jabbed my thighs with insulin needles for them, and then birthed them in all their bloody glory. I claim naming rights. He could have vetoed any of the above, and I’d have taken him to the mat on it.
But that religion also encouraged submission to one’s husband. So did St. Augustine.
But Our Last Son Has The Most Religious Name of All
If I could take back one name, just one, I would take back my youngest’s. He has the most religious name of all. You remember those apostles from way back in Bible times? Think not just of those dudes, but of the most apostle-ly of them all: not just Simon. Not just Peter. Simon Peter. Everyone was very proud of us.
I would name him almost anything else now. I hardly use his name, and when I think of it, I always have a twinge of regret. I can live with my second son’s sweet hippie-ish nickname. But this has no nickname. I remind myself that no, I always liked the name; it used to remind me of a character in Lord of the Flies, a character who’s supposed to symbolize all the good qualities in human society (then gets murdered for it, but anyway).
But when you tag Simon to his middle name, the family name Peter, it becomes an incredibly religious name. It screams, “WE LOVE THE LORD.” And since I’m sort of agnostic at this point, among other things, I cringe. If I had free choice at the time, I’d have picked any number of names like the ones I mentioned. But nope. It was their way or the highway, and we still had a few years before we’d pick the highway.
We may not belong to that religion anymore. But our sons’ names do, and they always will, a legacy they’ll drag with them through the rest of their lives. I’d rather them drag Moon or West or Sky or River. Maybe the name of a mountain range, like Panamint. I’ve got a bad case of name regret to live with. And every time I hear a cool baby name, it gets a little worse.