The minute my baby bump began showing I started fielding a singular question posed by friends, family, and grocery store cashiers alike:
“Have you decided on a name?”
When we found out we were having a boy at my 18-week anatomy scan (I could have sworn it was a girl and almost fell off the exam table in shock), my husband and I tentatively decided to name him Benjamin. I had always loved that name for a boy—it was my husband’s middle name, and it had a strong, classic sound to it. Our tentative feeling about this name soon grew into full-blown certainty. I felt the baby kick and responded with, “Hi, Benji boy.” At night before I fell asleep I rubbed my hand across my belly and whispered, “I love you, Benjamin.” I have entire letters in my journal written to my son that begin, “Dear Benjamin…”
Imagine my surprise when our baby boy entered the world and we immediately agreed: this child was not a Benjamin.
The morning after our son was born, I was sitting up in the hospital bed eating oatmeal with peanut butter while my husband held our brand new baby against his chest. A lady walked in—we began referring to her as the Name Lady—and asked if we were ready to fill out birth certificate paperwork. My husband and I exchanged uncertain glances. How were we supposed to have chosen something as important as a name in the past 14 hours? Our son was born at 5:30pm on the dot and his first few hours of life were calm and peaceful. Blissful, even. The only time I took a break from nursing him and gazing adoringly at his precious face was to inhale a burger my doula kindly brought me. As the night wore on, however, we learned that this child of ours had a very healthy set of lungs and a penchant for using them to shriek at untold volumes. My exceedingly patient husband had spent most of the night holding our son’s ear next to the blasting water faucet in the bathroom to calm him down (this worked, believe it or not) while I tried to squeeze in a few hours of rest here and there. We regretfully told the Name Lady that we had not chosen a name yet.
Later that afternoon, while our son was getting his hearing tested by the audiologist and I was hoping and praying that those hours next to the water faucet hadn’t done any lasting damage, the Name Lady darkened the door of our hospital room once again. “Have you decided?” she asked, pen poised over her clipboard. Once again, my husband and I shook our heads sheepishly and told her we needed more time. Surely we weren’t the only parents here so woefully underprepared? It felt like this was my first major assignment as a mother, and I hadn’t even studied for the exam. The Name Lady told us she would return once more in a few hours, and we would have to make a decision by then. Our name deadline had been set. We got to work.
My husband grabbed the back of the hospital menu and scrawled three name choices, then tore each one out and placed them in a pink plastic vomit basin. He offered the basin to me, arm outstretched across the hospital bed. “Pick a name,” he said matter-of-factly. I was horrified. Had it come to this? Our beloved child, longed for and prayed for, receiving something as important as a name out of a vomit bucket? I immediately had visions of his name being called at high school graduation while the audience cringed, collectively wondering what on earth his parents had been thinking. Was I taking this too seriously? Or not seriously enough? And for the love of all things holy, why had we not chosen any backup names?!
Reluctantly, I reached my hand into the basin and pulled out a scrap of paper. Christian, read my husband’s nearly illegible left-handed scribble. I was surprised, to say the least. In my 38 weeks of pregnancy, this name had never even shown up on the radar. My husband explained that his mother had lost a child at 20 weeks pregnant, whom they named Christian. It also, of course, refers to followers of Christ. We sat with the name for awhile, having one-sided discussions with our sleeping child while calling him by this new, unfamiliar yet familiar sounding name. I loved the fact that it honored my husband’s would-be older brother, and I loved that it contained within it a sort of prophecy that our child would one day choose to follow the way of Jesus. We felt a sense of peace settle upon us as we waited for the Name Lady, this time ready to bestow upon our son the first thing that belonged to him and him alone: a name.
We quickly decided on Jeffrey as a middle name—the name of both of our fathers, two wonderful men whom we knew would play an important role in our son’s life. Before we even left the hospital, Christian Jeffrey turned into CJ. Eventually, CJ got shortened even further to Ceej, which now often gets twisted into all sorts of letter combinations including Ceej Weej, Dot Dot (as in C-dot-J-dot), and DJ CJ (just in case he one day starts a side hustle spinning discs). Let’s hope they don’t call out any of those at his high school graduation.
Regardless of what my son chooses to go by when he’s older, I will love him more than any name could ever express. The love I have for my children feels so much weightier than a single word uttered in a single language—it is all-encompassing, far-reaching, and unbound by writings on a legal document. It is, in a sense, nameless.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “A Name”.