Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Friday, August 8, 2014

A crisis averted

Dear Hannah,

You might be interested in knowing that had you been a boy, you probably would have been named Saul.  In retrospect it would have been a terrible idea, made during a period of religious fervor -- or maybe it was a period of fanaticism.

The idea of naming you Saul was interesting, if nothing more; we thought that you might be named after two men who were temporally advantaged, but spiritually impoverished.  Eventually, should this alternate you have made a decision to follow Christ, you would have been renamed Paul -- like Saul of Tarsus was renamed after he converted, or like Abram was renamed Abraham when he proved himself faithful.

The implication was about as clear as I could possibly make it: whatever you had in earthly terms -- whether you were handsome or rich or powerful, or simply brilliant or upwardly mobile -- you were destined to crash and burn unless you had the hand of God upon your shoulder.  Old Testament Saul, as you well remember, was extremely handsome and powerful, and he died by falling on his own sword after a life of failure and misery, all resulting from his rashness and disobedience.  Had New Testament Saul never been knocked off his donkey, he would have persecuted good men until he eventually met their angry Father.  The difference between the two is fairly obvious: an act of God saved one, and an omission of God destroyed the other.  Either you would be lost or found -- and your name would remind you of this fact every time you heard it (or at least that was what I'd intended).  When you became Paul, your name would mean more to you than simply a name: you would have been rebranded -- a new creation.

But Saul is a damned ugly name; absolutely for an adult, but especially on a baby.  Add to this the fact that both Sauls were mass-murderers, and that nobody (to my knowledge or expectation) has ever named their kid Manson or Dahmer, and the ugliness of the sound is almost eclipsed by the repulsiveness of the concept.  And of course, nobody thinks when they name their baby that the baby is going to be a failure, which is why people name their children all kinds of prestigious names like Jackson (after President Andrew) or Macaulay (after Lord Thomas Babington), and nobody expects that their child is going to end up being Macaulay Culkin or Michael Jackson.  But at least with those names, even if the kid ends up being a complete failure, he'll still have a winner of a name, and before he fails, he'll at least give a superficial impression of virtue.  I was slightly less prudent.  You would have been named not after one, but two losers, and had you turned out a mess, everyone would have blamed me for making it worse, because your name would have made you even more intolerable.

But these are the kinds of things parents dream about; I'll dream much more carefully next time.  For the meantime, think carefully about the name you give your baby, should you ever have one; never aim them too high by naming them after an ideal (like Justice, Charity, Faith or Christian), thank God you ended up a woman, and thank him doubly you weren't born sooner when I was a fanatic. 

Your father,

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