Naming babies

I’m always curious about how babies get named. Maybe you are too. I acknowledge that this is my version, and my partner might have some different ideas, details, and values about naming these children. 

The day I took my first positive pregnancy test was the same day my husband was mugged at gunpoint. I have never felt less in control. My whole world was a thinly stretched spider web, all vulnerability and uncertainty as we figured out how to finish our masters programs and find jobs and discern priesthood and become parents. We knew his middle name would be James—it’s a nod to my late grandfather, the Greek form of Jacob who struggled and fought with God, and most of all, for James Baldwin, whose writings shaped us both tremendously. Baldwin’s words on courage and resistance, his incisive clarity on white supremacy, his beautiful but never naive belief in love and community have been our compasses. When we found ourselves looking at a different life than we’d expected, preparing to love this new little stranger, how fitting it was to return to the passage that helped me articulate courage for lifelong commitment to Austin in the first place: “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word love here not merely in a personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” (The Fire Next Time) We stumbled across Sylvan by accident. It’s the masculine version of the name of a French author and sociologist, Sylvie, assigned in one of Austin’s seminars. Her book was good (not life changing) but we thought the name was just lovely. “Of the forest.” A name that is simple and beautiful, reason enough. Little one, may you be full of tough and universal love, a state of grace. May you have a life of simplicity and beauty in the midst of struggle and courage.

Amos is named for the biblical prophet who poetically proclaimed one of God’s essential hard truths: we are all responsible to each other, and our identity as God’s children is wrapped up in our treatment of each other. And he is named for Dorothy Day, the activist and journalist who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement. Her story and work has also moved and shaped us both, particularly in her vision of common life for Austin, and an activism rooted in sacraments and gospel for me. This babe has arrived in a season of more stability than we’ve ever had as a family, and we receive this steadiness with gratitude, not guilt. But Day’s voice keeps us accountable and engaged, looking beyond false political polarity and false comfortable faith, calling for vigilant resistance and for peaceful flourishing without giving up either. “Even when they admit it is bad, they say, “What can we do?” And the result is palliatives, taking care of the wrecks of the social order, rather than changing it so that there would not be quite so many broken homes, orphaned children, delinquents, industrial accidents, so much destitution in general. Palliatives, when what we need is a revolution, beginning now. Each one of us can help start it… If we don’t do something about it, the world may well say, “Why bring children into the world, the world being what it is?” We bring them into it and start giving them a vision of an integrated life so that they too can start fighting.” (“All the Way to Heaven is Heaven,” 1948) Little one, may you see the beauty and responsibility of our connectedness. May you hold onto peace and vision as you heal the world around you. 

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