Baby names as blessings

Caryn Rivadeneira

You don’t go through life with a name like mine - having to spell and pronounce your name for every last human you encounter - without having a few strong opinions on what parents name their children.

So when I read that New Zealand recently forbida set of parents from naming their child Lucifer, deeming it essentially child cruelty, my brain burst with thoughts. The first: New Zealand forbids parents from naming their kids certain things?!?! Outrageous! Where’s the liberty? (Wait: Does the U.S. do this…?)

The second: Lucifer’s actually kind of cute. Everybody knowshow to spell it. You could go Luci for short. Besides, it’s Satan beforehe fell. An angel’s name, really. Like Michael or Gabriel. Sort of.

The third: Except it is still Satan.Even if it is a nice affirmation of your belief in total depravity, that’s probably too much to saddle a kid with…

The last: What could those parents have been thinking? Thank God New Zealand has laws to protect kids from names like that.

And so it went.

Ultimately I ended up feeling merciful toward little Lucifer’s parents. After all, they aren’t the only ones who seemingly cracked under the pressure of naming a child. Unless you’re the sorts of parents who fell in love on long walks around campus agreeing on Rosie Grace for your first girl and Nathan John for your boy, naming children is hard work.

Before we know - or have ever seen - a child, parents-to-be are expected to choose a name that lasts longer than life itself. Without ever knowing if this child’s name will appear in lights on Broadway or run along the spine of a book, without knowing which letters will jumble together in a preschooler’s mouth or how well their cursive will loop together, we’re expected to decide what this name will be.

More than that, let’s face it: in this day and age, what we name our kids is a direct reflection on who we are as parents. What we name our kids says so much about us - or what we want to portray - as parents. If we’re trendy - with our names off the Top 10 list. If we’re literary - with our names straight from "Masterpiece Classic." If we’re pious - with our semi-obscure biblical names. If we’re non-conformists - with our pieces of fruit or entirely made-up names or fallen angels. If we’re, say, proudly Swedish but scarred by constant misspelling and mispronunciation of our names - with our Henriks, Gretas and Fredriks. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

The whole “what does it say about me” part of naming is, I believe, the true “crime” in this Lucifer story. It’s not so much the name Lucifer itself (well, it kind of is) as much as it is the desperate attempts we parents will go to prove something to the world through our children - or at their expense.

While I don’t suggest all countries adopt name-censoring laws like New Zealand, this may be a good call-to-action to re-evaluate our approach to naming children. And think about the real reason we name what we love.

When God had Adam name the animals (along with Adam’s specially made mate), I’d venture to suggest he did this because naming establishes a relationship, builds a connection and fosters intimacy. Naming elevates above the ordinary - gives distinction and worth - to the bearer of the name.

Perhaps this is why that as sad a name as Lucifer seems, it isn’t the worst I’ve ever heard. That name was: Baby Boy. The name of a child whose mother or father had never bothered to name him. So his legal name remained what the hospital worker typed into the blank.

The moral of this story of little Lucifer and Baby Boy? Certainly parents should like the name they give their child, but maybe we just need to let go of the pressure and competition and stop thinking about what a child’s name says about us. Maybe we can bring naming back to being about connections and relationships, about bestowing blessings and promises and hope.

In which case, Lucifer - which means “bearer of light”- isn’t all that bad, actually.

(Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.)