What's in a Name?

For Sylvia's birth story, click here.
Sylvia Jae Oren
If you know me and Jon well, you know we are deep feelers in many realms and carry deep in our souls a very nostalgic and sentimental view of life, people, and relationships. Naturally, this characteristic within both of us lends us to be deep thinkers and feelers when it comes to the names of our children.

Throughout world history, and still in most non-Western cultures, the majority of people name their children either after a prominent season that has happened in their life, after a family member or person who has touched their lives deeply, after a prominent figure in their faith, or for the deep meaning a name carries historically or in and of itself. Rarely, in most cultures do people name a child something "just because they like it." The idea of connecting present humanity, with past humanity throughout names and the sense of belonging, resonates deeply with us. Therefore, naming our children has become a favorite thing of ours- finding ways to tie family present with family past, or a way to bring in deep meaning, or to highlight a particular characteristic or life direction, to honor a great influence, or to reflect a piece of our hearts. Each of our children's names have fallen under one or more of these categories and took a great deal of time and attention in choosing.

Sylvia Jae.

Her name reflects a piece of our hearts, and honors a person who has touched our lives deeply.

Her first name was chosen in reflection of her Daddy's heart. It's no secret that we (and most specifically Jon), have embarked on quite the journey to surround our kids with a certain kind of beauty. It's a different kind of "beauty." It's a beauty surrounded by creating spaces, outside gardens, and orchards that are filled to the brim with all kinds of life. They are spaces that might look "messy" but actually are an intricately woven web showcasing how God created all these life forms, plants, insects, animals, and organisms to work in tandem with each other. Jon's desire is to give our children regular opportunities, right outside their back door, to get in touch with God's creation, to smell the fresh air, to discover toads, butterflies beetles, robins, plants, berries, life growing all around, with homegrown food and animals in abundance. That's his vision. That's his dream.

The deepest parts of our souls cry out to reflect the Creator who made us. The way every person reflects God and expresses various parts of His personality are unique to each and every individual. It's much like the line in the movie Chariots of Fire where the runner Eric Liddle says, "God made me fast, and when I run, I feel God's pleasure." For me personally, my soul finds it's greatest reflection of God through the written word. My solace, my way to connect, and re-connect to God's heart, and the way I personally reflect various parts of God's personality is through writing. God gave me the gift of words, and when I write, I feel His pleasure.
For Jon, the beauty and intricacy of nature is what connects and re-connects him to God. When he is outside among God's creation, smelling and feeling the dirt in his hands, planting seeds, harvesting fruit, and working within God's intricate plan to cultivate new growth and life, he feels alive. God gave him the gift of beauty, and when he works among creation, He feels God's pleasure.

Nature is Daddy's delight. He finds rest and shalom there. It's where He meets with God and where he finds and feels God's pleasure.

That is the heart of Jon.
 When we found out baby #5 was a little girl, we were beyond excited. Secretly, we were really hoping for another girl and were ecstatic  when the ultrasound technician said, "Yes! It's definitely a baby girl." Jon smiled the deep, satisfied kind of smile he gets when "all is well" and said, "I knew it. I can't wait. Another little girl." As soon as we got into the car, the quest for the perfect name started.

As with each child we have named, the first place we usually go to is our family history for family names. We look at names as far back as we know, talk about whether we actually know the person, or just like the family name, or if there are any variations of family names we could use.

From there, we talk about the time of life we are in, important and influential people in our life, prominent figures of our faith, the historical meaning of a name that is personal to us, or even the simple meaning of the name itself.

We tossed around name after name for several weeks. Re-working names, nicknaming old family names, putting them up to the test of Evangeline and Penelope, knowing that as soon as we saw the name, we would likely "just know."

We were driving to our friends, the Wendel's, house one Sunday evening. I had an old little baby name booklet I brought along the ride for kicks, although, we have never chosen a name from a baby name book, ever.  But, I'm pretty obsessed with names and it would be weird to read a baby name book just for fun, so I took being pregnant and this baby girl needing a name as my excuse to read them, and throw out every cute name to Jon. Pretty much every single time his response is, "Why that name? Why do you like that?" And usually I would respond, "I don't know. Just because. I think it's cute." And he would always respond, "We don't name our kids things just 'because they are cute.'" But nonetheless, I continued to call out name after name. This little booklet is old, so there were no trendy names and lots of good old fashioned names. Things that would fit right in with Evangeline and Penelope.

And then, I saw it.... Sylvia.
Something about the way it looked written. Specifically the "y" and the "ia." Strange, I know, but my eye was drawn to the way it looked and I thought it looked beautiful. Then I saw what it meant...

the forest maiden.

"Perfection," I thought to myself.

I said nothing at first but, "Sylvia." He pulled into the driveway and parked and said, "Sylvia. I like it. What does it mean?" I was kind of shocked because this is not his normal reaction. Just going through a baby book and finding one with a "good meaning" is not exactly our idea of "choosing a name for it's meaning."

"Forest maiden," I said.

Daddy got a huge smile on his face and I knew this name was just for him. In our minds, it encompassed all the characteristics of Jon's love of beauty and nature. It was perfect.

For several more weeks, we tossed "Sylvia" around. Saying it to each other at night when the kids were sleeping, texting it back and forth, and whispering her secret name between us. We had fallen completely in love with the "why" of her name- the connection to Daddy and his love of nature, because it's what connects him to God. So for a couple weeks, I poured over several lists of "nature" names, just to be sure we picked the right one that captured everything we were trying to capture with her name. Nothing felt as right as Sylvia.

So we settled on it. It was perfect.
And then came the hunt for the middle name. All five of our kids have a middle name that is specifically named after someone in our life. Mekonen Jack is named after my Dad and Jon's grandfather. Evangeline Rae is named after myself (the nickname many family members and childhood friends call me), and Penelope Mae is named after Jon's grandmother. Our little guy in Ethiopia has a special middle name as well, but we can't reveal his first name online yet for adoption purposes, so we will leave his middle name as part of that so he can have his own "name post" too when he arrives home.

If you notice, both girls have the whole rhyming "ae" names. This was not intentional. In fact, it was my only hesitation on going with "Mae" for Penelope's middle name because it felt "trendy" to make them match, and then I thought, what do we do if we have another girl sometime? Then it WOULD be weird to go with something else that wasn't "ae." My OCD and how the written word needs to appear on paper would not tolerate the only "left out" looking middle name.

From the start of finding out it was a girl, we both wanted to somehow incorporate the name of a dear family friend, Julie Wendel. Joe and Julie Wendel have been monumental in the life of our family and when we think through the importance of our children's names and why we choose the names we do, we wanted to honor these friends for being such a huge part of rebuilding our family legacy.

Julie specifically, has been my biggest support and my biggest cheerleader. Word are so hard to come by when your family literally still exists due to the relentless, unconditional love and perseverance of a person. Through some of our greatest pain and greatest joy, Julie was there, walking every step with us, and specifically with me. She's taught me incredible things about Jesus and what the Gospel really does. Her persistent and fierce love for me and my family taught me what it's like to live with authentic freedom.  She's taught me most what it means to live in light of the truth that at every given moment, at my best, and at my worst, I am eternally loved by Jesus, and genuinely significant because of Jesus- one of the greatest things I've learned in my adult life. She cheers wildly with every success and comforts with every heartache. Jon and I have called her the game changer in our family. And the game changer, deserves a permanent spot in our family, via the name of one of our daughters. 
We decided to satisfy the OCD that secretly lies within both Jon and I and craft a middle name that fit the "ae" pattern of the other girls. In other name conversations in the past we threw around using an initial letter after someone instead of their whole name because it fit a previous name we liked better than using the whole name. The idea of the single letter came back to our mind this time with the letter "J" for Julie, and conveniently enough "J-a-e" sounds the same as just saying the initial "J."

And there we had it.... baby girl's middle name. Jae.

Named for our lifelong friend, Julie.

And God saw it fit for her to not only walk in some of the most painful trenches with us, but to also walk into our house in one of our most joy filled moments, just minutes after Sylvia arrived. She got to be involved in the very first minutes of Sylvia's life... before she even knew her name.

And that's, where her name came from. Two very special people.

We've chosen a special hymn for each of our children upon birth or arrival into our family. To tie Sylvia's story and her name together, we chose the hymn For the Beauty of the Earth. We raise our joyful hymn of praise for the greatest surprise we've ever been given.

For the Beauty of the Earth
For the beauty of the earth; For the beauty of the skies, For the love which from our birth over and around us lies: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, Hill and vale and tree and flower, Sun and moon and stars of light: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child, friends of earth, and friends above, For all gentle thoughts and mild: Lord of all to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.

For each perfect gift of thine to our race so freely given, Graces human and divine, Flow'rs of earth and buds of heav'n: Lord of all to thee we raise this our joyful hymn of praise.


Sylvia Jae Houston said...

I am so pleased to meet another Sylvia Jae!!! I loved reading how you chose her name! ♥ Sylvia Jae Houston

Anna O. said...

Sylvia is such a lovely name! One of my best friends' name is Sylvia.