What’s In a Name?

The other day, a proud Grandma I know announced to me that her daughter had recently given birth to a fourth child.

“They named her Zipporah,” she beamed.

“Zipporah?” I raised an eyebrow.

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“Yes,” she explained. “It was Moses’ wife’s name.”

Hmm. I kind of like it.

Besides, who am I to judge anyone for giving their baby an unusual name? We named our second son Ambrose Augustine. I tried not to — really, I did — but it happened anyway.

Ambrose Augustine, my husband Dan argued, was a strong and manly name taken from two of the Church’s greatest saints — the perfect Catholic name for a boy. I preferred Andrew, Isaac, or William. Something more . . . normal.

We argued about what to name that third baby right up until we were in the car, speeding through nighttime streets, on our way to the hospital.

“Slow down!” I barked at my husband. “Are you hitting every bump in the road on purpose?”

I don’t usually talk to him like this, but labor is a pretty good excuse. Hard labor, in fact.

I had spent the better part of the day trying to convince myself that this was not the day, but there was no denying now that this was the night. This baby was on its way. Right now. Maybe, much to my terror, even in this car.

I did not relish the thought of delivering a baby in the backseat of our tiny Toyota.

Hoping to slow my labor, I tried to breathe. What a crock that breathing stuff is, by the way. I took the classes, I did the exercises, I have given birth to eight babies, and I am here to tell you: Breathing does not help. Not nearly so much as whimpering to your husband and clutching the car door handles until your knuckles whiten does.

When I felt a new contraction coming on, I gazed at the glowing moon that hung in the September sky and tried to focus my attention on other matters.

“We haven’t even decided what to name this child!” I accused my unsuspecting husband.

“Yes we have,” he answered calmly. “We’re going to name him Ambrose Augustine.”

“But this baby is a giiiirl,” I whined.

He smiled. I panted.

“Okay, fine then,” I conceded as a wave of pain washed over me. “If this . . . baby is . . . a boy . . . we will name him . . . Ambrose Augustine.”

Next thing I knew we were in the hospital parking lot. Dan had opened the passenger door and was waiting for me to make a graceful exit.

I did not move. That tiny Toyota was beginning to look like the perfect birthing place after all.

“Do you want me to go get someone?” my husband asked. His voice was still calm, but his face betrayed anxiety.

I think I told him no. I think I somehow managed to stand between contractions, lumber into the emergency room, and demand help getting to the third floor. I think it was a long walk. I think I’d rather forget the whole embarrassing scene.

But I know that my baby was born 15 minutes later. Into the arms of panicked nurses.

And he was a boy: Ambrose Augustine.

I once heard that at the final judgment, Christ will call each of us by name. This strikes me as a strangely wonderful thing. What power we parents have when we choose our children’s names. We get to decide how these souls will be identified for all of eternity. We give them the name that Christ Himself will speak when He calls them.

When the nurses placed that tiny, wrapped bundle of baby onto my chest, his bright blue eyes locked onto mine and I knew who he was. He was Ambrose. Of course he was. From the beginning of time, this child was meant to be my Ambrose.

“Do you like your name?” I recently asked Ambrose, who is now 10 years old.

“Are you kidding?” he said as he waved a wooden sword through the air, engaged in an imaginary battle. “I love my name.”

“I am Ambrose Augustine!” he shouted grandly, and with a final, decisive blow, he defeated his opponent.

“Yes, you are,” I told him as he turned to me with a gracious bow. As no one else could be.

  • Danielle Bean

    Danielle Bean, a mother of eight, is Editorial Director of Faith & Family. She is also author of My Cup of Tea: Musings of a Catholic Mom (Pauline 2005) and Mom to Mom, Day to Day: Advice and Support for Catholic Living (Pauline 2007). Her blog is a source of inspiration, encouragement, and support for Catholic women of all ages and life stages.

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