What’s In a Name

I’d spent most of my life wanting/expecting to bestow on my kids names so Irish in origin that you’d assume they’d bust out in a jig at a moment’s notice.

My name literally means “Ireland.” Because I grew up so strongly ensconced in Irish-American culture, I wore this as a badge of immense pride. It wasn’t just that I come from an Irish lineage, but I am in fact so Irish that my name is the geographical spot of Irish people. Or something. When I look at our family tree – which I luckily have, and it dates back to the early 1800s – I am the only Erin. Which doesn’t shock Irish people since I think most Irish folks, and it’s certainly true in my family, have many more “Mary Something-Or-Others” than Erin’s. My aunt Peg was Mary Margaret, for example.

My love of my heritage has as much to do with my love for my family, as it does for Ireland. And that’s generally the point. So it was always something I assumed I’d pass along to my own child, neatly symbolized in a name like “Mary Katherine” or “Seamus.”

My husband, however, wasn’t exactly on board. While his mom shares my love for all-things-Irish, and a celebration does not pass by without she and I buying each other Celtic-themed items, Scott has no particular connection to being Irish. Every name I proposed was summarily shot down. Or made fun of. Or met with him mockingly humming fiddle music.

There was very little chance my daughter was going to be able to bear the same puffy pride I did, and I let that go. It’s what you do in a marriage sometimes, especially when there are greater battles to fight in life, and this is one you’d sooner sit out.

But battle we did on names in general. Everything I suggested was shot down. And he will argue with me, I know, because it’s what he does, but the man did not suggest one single alternative, whether it be for a first or middle name. If he did and I missed it, Scott, my love, I welcome the rebuttal in the comments.

I’ll wait.

And so I spun my wheels and remembered one night, long before we were pregnant, or even moved to Beverly, when we were watching The West Wing. You have to understand the passion for which we love this show, Scott especially. My entire family, too. Once I came home to find my dad playing Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” on his 12-string after hearing it on an episode of the show. My sister, Kate, is equally as ravenous for the show.

“What about ‘Abigail’ if we ever have a girl,” I said.

“Hmmm,” he said. “OK. I like that.”

Naming our daughter after a television character, even one as amazing as Abigail Bartlett, kind of haunted me. There is a family story that my name wasn’t actually a nod to our Irish heritage but a nod to The Waltons, a favorite TV show of my mother’s. I didn’t want to go down that route, even if it was a fallacy, but here we were. So I did some research on Abigails, and found another first lady who would fit the bill, and settle my soul a bit:

Abigail Adams.

And it was this excerpt from her March 1776 letter to her husband John and the Continental Congress, stating that they, “…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.

Well heck yes then. I fully expect my daughter to form a rebellion if needed.

And so “Grace.”

It’s a popular name these days, and so I initially shied away from it. But in thinking about the women we were naming our daughter after, the sort of women we’d hope to inspire her to follow, fiction or not, one other woman came into my mind.

Sr. Grace Henneberry.

Sr. Grace is a Dominican sister who was a teacher at my high school in the 1990s. I probably don’t have the eloquence to describe the sort of person Sr. Grace is, but there is one undeniable fact about her: she seeks out the good in every person she encounters, and even more importantly, she makes people feel good about themselves. Can you imagine being that way? Being the sort of person who, without exception, makes every single person she encounters feel loved, acknowledged and cared for? It’s not just that she’s kind, because she is, but it’s something more deliberate, more purposeful.

Anyone can be kind. It’s another person altogether who can so selflessly make it so that she puts others and their feelings first.

You just feel better being in her presence, and for as much as I look forward to the revolutions Abigail will no doubt lead, more than anything for her we wish that she is the sort of woman who cherishes and takes sacred the feelings of those around her and looks to empower those with whom she encounters with the sort of peace and joy that Sr. Grace does for so many.

So her name doesn’t scream wool sweaters or tri-color flags, but that doesn’t really matter. Besides, there’s no reason why she still can’t learn to jig.