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What’s in a Name?

By Melonie Cannon

“Cadmus – too heavy.
Caesar – too Roman.
Cailan- too common.
Cain – too damned.
Caldwell- too last-namish.
Caleb – Hey, I think I like that name.” I looked up at my husband over my bulging stomach and the Best Baby Name Book resting on top. His mouth was wide open. “What do you think?” I said.
“That’s his name,” he replied, “before you even said it, the Spirit whispered his name to me.” There was no more searching after that. This is how my second son was named- James Caleb.

Are names important in the eternal scheme of things? Why would the Spirit extend itself enough to tell my husband the name of my son if it wasn’t important? I know my name has importance to me. It shaped my character, in a way. My first name was spelled in a slightly unique way –giving countless teachers pause. They would stop at my name while reading the role and ask about it. I had no middle name – a vast space between the first and last – it seemed to me. My last name was like a vital backbone holding up the shape of my life. My parents and grandparents were emphatic about the people who came before me and that I had a legacy to live up to. Names can create character. Think of Al Dente or Claire Blue Waters. How about Dan D. Lyons or Harry Caray? Don’t you think that their names shaped their lives?

Justine Dorton reminds us, however, that the most important name we can take on is the name of our Savior in her essay Names. She also reminds us of the links names can create between generations. Please take a few minutes to read it, if you haven’t had a chance, and reflect on the names that have influenced you. Then, let us know what you think and share your “name” stories in the comments below.

P.S. Be sure to sign your name.

About Melonie Cannon

Melonie has surrounded herself with beautiful words for as long as she can remember. This led her to find a home with Segullah after writing an essay published in the May 2006 Segullah issue. She was invited to join the staff and has been a part of Segullah in various capacities since, including being the creator of the “Words Fall In” podcast.  She received her M.Ed from the University of Utah and was a certified Secondary English teacher before becoming a Mom of four. Over the years, her focus has been on natural healing modalities and becoming a sacred sound healing practitioner with a focus on the drum, rhythm, voice, and vibration. She is finishing her PH.D. in theology and metaphysics to further these studies and help women to connect to the divine within themselves.

24 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Many people have thought us odd because we never give middle names to our daughters. Neither did my mother, or her mother, or her mother, or her mother…in fact, I have to go back quite a ways to find out if there is a line in my matriarchy that has female middle names. My father said he loved it because of geneology; our maiden names become our middle names and nobody is lost in the chain of posterity.

    Men in my family are given unique first names, but family middle names.

    When we were deciding the names of our children, we made lists we both agreed on, and then we waited until we saw the child's face. Without the face, we decided, we couldn't know his/her name. With only one of our children did we sense a whispering of the Spirit as to what our child should be named. The other three felt nice, but it wasn't really a "spiritual" decision.

    For me? I love my name. It's unique and common, pretty and practical. I don't know if it defines me, but I sure try to keep it untainted (first, maiden, and last).

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  2. When I was pregnant with my fifth child, but before I knew that I was pregnant, the Spirit whispered, "you are pregnant with a girl and her name is Adelaide." That name had never been on any of my baby name lists (and I have made hundreds during my lifetime). I didn't much care for that name, so I picked something else when she was born (Clementine. Go ahead and make fun of it. Everyone else did.)

    A week or so after her birth my husband came to me and said, "She's not a Clementine, she's an Adelaide." What could I say? So we scrambled to fill out new paperwork and Adelaide Amelia she is. Why did she need to have that name? I don't know. I can't imagine why Heavenly Father would care. But who am I to quibble?

    PS. I still like Clementine a lot.

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  3. Jennie,

    That's a neat story. Do you pronounce Clementine as "ClemenTINE" or "ClemenTEEN"?

    I have 4 kids. 1st, Ethan Young M., name was confirmed in a blessing to me while I was pregnant. 2nd, Christian McKay M., first name is a family name and we decided to do Latter-day Prophets as middle names for our sons. 3rd, Jordan Smith M., we had a hard time choosing. For a long time I wanted to name him Ammon instead. He only started to feel like a "Jordan" around 18 mos. to me. 4th, a girl, is Scarlet Elisabeth. We wanted a traditional, yet not overused name. Red's my favorite color, and Elisabeth with an "S" I thought looked better with the "S" in the first name. And though we weren't really trying to, all the kids' names are biblical (though Scarlet and Christian being words as opposed to proper names).

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  4. I knew my fifth son's name was Gabriel but my husband did not agree. We went to the temple and did initiatories the night before he was born and guess what was the first name on hubby's list? Gabriel. Not exactly a common name in any time period. And what an angel my little boy has proven to be!

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  5. My parents called me Angela right up until I was born. They hadn't even discussed any other names at all. When I was born and the doctor held me up and and asked what my name was, my parents each took one look at me and said "Kathryn" in unison, without even looking at each other or pausing at all. I guess I was supposed to be a Kathryn! Good thing too, I look nothing like an Angela.

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  6. I've always loved having a middle name. My first name was very common- growing up I had 2 other close friends with the first name Amber and another with the middle name Amber. (For the record, it never bothered me to share my name with someone else.) I did love that my middle name was different and very feminine- I felt. LaRee. I still love it. I love the spelling and the way it fits with my name and I kept it as my middle when I got married. (Hindsight- I wouldn't have dropped my maiden name- I'd have just tacked my new last name on the end. Not hyphened or anything but just so it stayed that way, offically. 🙂 ) In anycase I really like my name.

    My kiddos. All of them have been picked fairly easily. They all have Hebrew names- not intentionally at first but now we've just stuck with it. 🙂 Their middle names are all after family, including our little girl. I loved having a middle name and I hope she loves hers too. She's named after my grandma. 🙂
    Her first name was probably the hardest one we've had to pick so far. I kept a short list but DH never really had any opinion on any of them. They were all just OK. One day he says, out of the blue, "You know, I really like Sarah." So Sarah she is. 🙂 I love that I can tell her that story. 🙂
    We've taken turns with family names for the middles #1 and 3 are named from hubbys family and #2 and 4 are after mine.

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  7. My Dad dreamed about one of my sisters and what she would be named.

    For my children I had names picked out before I ever became pregnant. The boys have family names for middle names. My oldest has my maiden name has his middle name. Their first names are ones my husband and I both agreed felt right.

    For our daughter, it started out as one thing. But when I was pregnant, it didn't feel right. So we changed it to another name. When people would ask us what names we had chosen though we would get tripped up on her first name every single time (the middle name is a family name) until we finally said, "OK! You win." and stopped fighting the name.

    It completely suits her too.

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  8. I can't tell you why, but names seem to be a big deal to me. I am at the point in my life where I am some years off from having my own biological children (I have two step daughters but want to finish college before having some of my own) but I think of my future children's names at least weekly. The name I use for commenting isn't my real name, it's a name that I love for girls. I even have themes for the names I like, mainly separated by regions of the world. My mother's name was Patrea (Latin for "land and mountains", my father's name was Michael (I love that name), and my real name is Christina Joy (first then middle, not one). I have considered changing the spelling of my first name to have it reflect a less religious nature, but whenever I think of that, I am always reminded of the day I was baptized two years ago when an elder in the church said in his talk, "Don't forget your name and what it means." I struggle with that, just to be honest. And I struggle with that because of my struggles with faith, but nevertheless, I found it significant that my name would be brought up at my baptism, makes me wonder if Heavenly Father was sending that message to me. I also contemplate that possibility because it's not just my first name that gives me trouble, but my middle. Joy. I mostly don't like it because my mother gave it to me and insisted upon it no matter what my first name was to be.
    And what another commenter said she'd wished she'd done is what I plan to do – I want to incorporate my maiden name back into the equation so I think I'll just replace my middle name with my maiden. I would like the name to stay with me.
    Maybe I'm getting too far out there with the whole name thing, but I really liked the bit about your husband just "knowing" that Caleb was to be your sons name – very special.

    Also, my husband and I have some friends who have a daughter they call Clovelly. Cute name, but honestly, I've never felt that it is her name. See, their first daughter is named Savannah and they wanted to name this second daughter Sierra – the name I think truly belongs to this little girl. It's just weird, it never really feels right to call her Clovelly even though we've known her since she was two.

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  9. I love Justine's essay. It's such a powerful reminder of how much meaning our names can have.

    When I was a kid, it bothered me that my name means "honeybee." I'm named for a bug? I wanted something a little more elegant. But the symbolic nature of bees has come to mean more to me as an adult and I have come to really identify with that aspect of my name. Funny thing is, I don't think my parents thought of that when they named me. They just liked the name.

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  10. We had a similar experience to yours, Melonie, when naming our fourth. We always had all of our other kids named by the time we went in for the gender ultrasound (meaning we had one boy name and one girl name going in), but this time we were still going back and forth between two girl choices. A few days after the ultrasound, I went out running, and a name popped into my mind that we had never considered using. It broke all of our many "rules" and I was sure Eddie would hate it. I called him that night, nervously, and said, "I think her name should be Maren" and to my great shock, he immediately said, "I love that." And we never looked back…

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  11. These are such great stories!!!!! Thank you all, but especially Christina Joy, for reminding us of finding the spirituality in our name and the gentle reminders the Lord puts in our life that HE is mindful of us and loves us and wants us to return to Him.
    Naming our fourth was a struggle. I wanted Josiah Christian and then our two last names. My husband wanted Peter Christian. We fought forever, so we named him all of them Josiah Peter Christian C. U. (initials represent our two last names). FIVE NAMES!!!!! After three months, we were tired of writing it and not being able to fill it in spaces, so we gave up and changed it to Jacob Christian. Marriage – compromise – life.
    Thanks again all!

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  12. With my first I had a name in mind before she was even conceived, and my husband loved it too. We had a generic middle name picked out, but then when I was about five months pregnant he decided that we should do a Hawaiian middle name (he was born and raised there, but is not ethnically Polynesian). So we picked a Hawaiian word that complements her first name and together they refer to a scripture/hymn. We did the same thing for our second child–his first name is a regular English name and his middle name is also Hawaiian and together they refer to a scripture. We were explaining this to a friend once and she looked at us like we were crazy–she said she just likes to pick stuff that sounds good 🙂 I guess that's what happens when two English majors/writers get married: we spend hours pondering names and their meanings, LOL

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  13. I'm getting a 'nothing found' on Justine's essay. ???

    We have a story to beat all stories, I think, with the naming of our children. It taught me that names do matter, at least they did for us. Maybe I will write about it sometime.

    I have a friend who reminds me that the concept of names in the scriptures is very important, and a trigger for learning more about God, identity, covenants, temple, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised that that names have ended up being important in a mortal sense.

    I have wondered, though, why some people don't seem to have such a time with it. 🙂

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  14. I get a "nothing found" too! So sad here!

    Naming is a big thing on my mind right now because I'm pregnant 🙂 My husband and I have radically different theories about proper names and so we have many bloody battles (ok, not really bloody but when you get two theatrical folks with strong opinions on the power of language and names then it can pretty heated!). I think a child should have a name with weight and heritage. He is greatly opposed to family names. My sister suggested using a family name from his side of the family but it isn't that he doesn't like my family's names…he just doesn't like family names as a general rule. For some reason naming a child a name that has been used by family isn't unique enough for him but giving a child a name used by strangers is. I don't get it. He's also opposed to weird Utah names and old lady names (we are expecting a girl). That rules out my mother's name (Lyona) and my grandmother's name (Zora). Oh, the trial!

    Then there is the recurring friction of the fact that when we were engaged his brother and sister-in-law were having their first baby and in our moonstruck recently-engaged conversations we came up with the perfect name for our future daughter. A name that I just don't care for anymore (though he still loves it). I mean, do you know how many Kaitlyns there are out there? Do we have to add to that confusion?

    What we did with our first daughter was battle, battle, battle and continually throw names into the ring until the Spirit quite forcefully testified that this was her name. My family thought we were a little crazy because we named her the same first name as her cousin AND we wanted to call her by both her first and middle names all the time, even though it is a mouthful (Emily Lara). It has turned out to be a pain in many respects, but it absolutely suits her (not that she is a pain! 🙂 and I wouldn't have her named anything else.

    It was pretty much the same for this new little girl too. On a long drive we just started throwing out names and vetoing each other. I had been reading the Bible Dictionary for inspiration and threw out the name "Maran Elizabeth"–to my great surprise he was amenable and so was the Spirit. Maran, by the way, is part of an early Christian watchword that means "Come, oh Lord" or "The Lord cometh." Elizabeth is a family name. Now that's a name with weight and heritage!

    Ironically, my daughter Emily Lara (5) has a "pretend baby" in her tummy that she calls….Kaitlyn!

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  15. m&m
    Are you going to share your story?
    Marianne,
    I have a great name for your next daughter…Lyona plus Zora equals a wonderful Lyonora…or Leonora. That's a family name for us and a great Mormon name!

    Reply
  16. I always loved my name, even though it gets misspelled alot. I liked my middle name until I found out I was given it after my dad's best college friend (a man). Weird.

    I knew my first daughter's name would be Tally before I was even married. I always loved that name. When I was pregnant with her I got a few comments that it seemed like a nickname – so we named her Talisa. We gave her my middle name too. We find ourselves calling her Tallulah alot. Hmmm.

    My second daughter was always going to be Caitlin but when it got closer to her birth it just seemed too common. So I decided I loved the name Corrinne, but not the spelling. So we named her Corryn. I think it's beautiful, but not when people look at it and call her Corn – which has happened alot – and it's now her nickname. We think it's funny. We gave her Ruth as a middle name, which was hubbies Grandma's name and my Great-Grandma's name. When she was misbehaving we would call her Ruth or her full name, until Grandma finally said she noticed we only called her that when we were mad. Oh oh, we stopped doing that.

    My third daughter was Siena Nicole all through my pregnancy. I had always wanted to name a girl Nicole but hubbie didn't really love it, so it became a middle name. We were really into family history before she was born and found many great names but still really liked Siena. When she was born we looked at each other and decided Siena just wasn't right. It took us just a few minutes to realize she was Serina Nicole. Since that time we have been able to do temple work for at least 7 Serina's or Serena's in our Norweigian line. Awesome.

    We have not had any boys and hubbie thinks it's because the boys names I like are odd. Oh well. To each his own.

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  17. My parents both felt strongly that my middle name should be after my maternal grandmother–my dad's mom who passed away when he was only 11. It doesn't totally fit with my first name, but I'm honored to be named after her. The interesting thing? I totally look like her–short, dark hair, my face shape, even the way I hold my hands when I'm in pictures. Older people in the family who knew her comment on how much I resemble her, and when you look at pictures you can really see it. For me, the name and appearance connection has really spurred me to look more closely at her life and look forward to meeting her some day.

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  18. I'm a little behind on the commenting, but oh well.
    Names are really important to me– I've had such a hard time giving up my maiden name because there is such pride in the Scottish heritage. But I don't have a middle name, so I was happy to take on my maiden as my middle.
    I always wanted a middle name, so I was insistent on giving my daughter one. Her middle name is my first name– which I was very opposed to– but my husband really wanted to name her after me. After I went through labor and delivery, I thought "I deserve to have someone named after me!" As for her first name, I wanted something that had meaning, but wasn't too common. I have never felt like a courtney, I don't think I look like one, and I think the name is too common. (wait, why did I name my daughter after me? oh well.) But we just found her name in a baby name book, and it felt so right. Her name is Bria and it's Gaelic and means strong, valiant, and courageous. I want her to feel like her name gives her strength, valiance, and courage.

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  19. baby one's name was dreamed up a decade before she came. we were young, VERY young, and madly in the throes of puppy love. a decade later, when we were newly married and found out we were expecting, my husband decided we had to stick with that name. it fits her perfectly, though i wish she had a family name in there somewhere.

    second baby, i waxed sentimental over family history. her first name is my name, my mom's name, her mom's name, and so on. we couldn't come up with a middle name and went down the list in our family history program. it was an experience not unlike the one in the first post, where we were in the middle of a list, looked at each other, and said, "that's it!" her middle name is my father-in-law's mother's name. my husband never knew his grandmother.

    third baby, oy. another girl and feeling like maybe she'll be our last, so we ought to make this name really COUNT! we couldn't decide, had a list, and everyone said, "oh, when you meet her, you'll just KNOW!" well, we didn't "just know." she looked like a… baby! we put off her name for a while because we could't agree on a middle name. we flipped a coin to fill out insurance paperwork when she was, um, a couple of months old. horrible, i know. that name didn't stick and it wasn't until her blessing at five months that we had finally settled on a name. DON'T JUDGE ME! seriously, with a 3yo, a 2yo, a newborn, and a husband who was mia courtesy of a temporary work schedule, the last thing we ever talked about was baby names. it was haaaaard. i would have thought it was nuts, too, till i'd been in those mocassins.

    baby four. another girl. now we REALLY need to make sure we're narrowing down names! we'd always wanted to name a son after my father-in-law, but with all girls, we're left with variations like bobbie jean, none of which i care for. we went with the name we had originally picked out for baby three, with josephine as a middle name, after my granddad.

    my oldest girls were born in hawai'i and were given hawaiian names by local elders (polynesian elders, not church elders!). for our third daughter, we wouldn't dream of giving her a hawaiian name because it's considered inappropriate, but we do use the hawaiian version of her given name… which has somehow evolved into 'ilio… which means dog. :::sigh:::

    courtesy of my husband's job, i never get to sign my real name (we have unique names), but suffice it to say i refused to give my daughters more than one middle name, like my parents did to me.

    signed,
    firstname middlename catholicname mom'smaiden mymaiden lastname

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  20. We've had some interesting naming experiences. Our first child was supposed to be a girl, and during 7 years of infertility, I had a name picked out that was very much tied up with all my dreams for my someday daughter. Needless to say, I was shocked when this baby turned out to be a boy! We had not even given boy names more than casual consideration, and now we had no name at all.

    My children are adopted, and we had basically two days until his placement to try to figure it out. (Birthmothers want to know these things!) His birthmom had given him a name, which we decided to keep for his middle name because it was extremely significant to the circumstances (Isaac–thinking of one of the ultimate sacrifices). Plus, we have always felt we needed to honor our kids' birth heritage for their middle names, either by naming them after a birth parent or birth family member, or by using a name chosen by the birth parent. We stewed and stewed over first names. Dh even went to the temple and came back with a name that had come to him there–and I shot it down. I felt terrible, but I just didn't care for the name and didn't feel it was right.

    We finally decided to name him after dh's dad. We even took him to the hospital for some bloodwork and had that recorded on all the paperwork. We were actually sitting in the hospital office, still having no name, wondering what to put on the paperwork, and just made a decision to use fil's name. But on the drive home, dh suddenly realized that his initials would spell PIG! We finally ended up giving him a name that I really loved and dh was OK with.

    When our dd arrived, we had only a few days notice and were in the middle of an extended family crisis (mil's funeral), so it was an extremely crazy time. We had not even considered any names after our previous experience. I did not want to get attached to any names. Her birthmom was clamoring to know what her name would be and asked us every time we saw her during those few days. The last thing we had time to do was think of names! We finally settled on 2 names that were similar, and ended up letting our ds, who was 4 at the time, decide which one he liked best. One was a family name, and one was a scriptural name. We went with the scriptural name.

    We did not end up giving our dd a birth-family-related middle name, which I felt badly about. I did not care for any of her birthparents' various names. Both birthparents had names that had virtually the same meaning, so I thought this was a sign that we should choose another name that had the same meaning, but we couldn't find one we liked. Her birthmom had not chosen a name for her, so there was no help there either. She had a couple of names she liked, but wasn't extremely attached to them, and we weren't crazy about them either. We ended up giving her the middle name Elisabeth, which both my and my recently-deceased mil's names are derived from. We chose the "s" spelling to honor Elisabeth in the scriptures, because of the infertility connection.

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  21. At age 29, I was finally expecting a daughter. Finally I had the chance to use the beautiful name I had chosen as a child. However, my husband didn't like it so I came up with four alternatives. I asked everyone which they liked better, even my four year old son. Yet, every time I rolled out the list, a voice in my head said, "Mary". Mary was the name of four of my best friends during my high school years. I felt it was so common, so old-fashioned. Yet, when the voice in my head said it, it was beautiful and it felt right. Still, I was afraid to run it past my husband. One day, when he and I and our son were having a quiet dinner, I said, "What do you think of Mary Elizabeth (Elizabeth being my first chosen name). The spirit rushed into the room and my husband said, "That's her name." She is about to turn 14 and I still don't know why it would matter so much what her earthly name should be, I just know that it does.

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