You named your kid Atticus?! Relax

Caryn Rivadeneira

We knew we wanted our son to have a Swedish first name. One that would balance out the very Spanish last name he’d carry through life and would pay homage to the Swedish half of his gene pool. And so my husband and I created a list, culled from the Internet and my grandmother’s family records. We weeded out ones we couldn’t pronounce or spell and ones deemed just too weird. (Sorry, Torbjörn. You really are a great name, just…)

After we settled on one - easy to spell and pronounce and one shared by a cousin and a smattering of my ancestors - we wanted to make sure it was a name still in rotation, one used by real-life Swedes outside of my family. So we turned - as you do - to the roster for Sweden’s national men’s ice hockey team. And there he was: Henrik Zetterberg. Name confirmed.

Of course, we didn’t name our son after Zetterberg. But I’ll confess: when I hear about any of the NHL or PGA Henriks, I’m delighted to see that name attached to such “accomplishment,” if you will.

But there’s a part of me that wonders, worries, what would happen if any of the famous Henriks became infamous.

So I get why those who’ve named their sweet babies Atticus might be worried right now - what with the reports that the national treasure that is To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch has apparently tarnished as he’s aged in Harper Lee’s new (well, old) Go Set a Watchman. I’ve yet to read the book myself, but early reviews reveal that Atticus has gone from Mockingbird’s staunch defender of the downtrodden and falsely accused to Watchman’s attendee of Ku Klux Klan rallies, from a champion of everyone’s right to a fair trial to a good old boy who doesn’t think those courthouse rights need extend to the schoolhouse.

So now, parents who named their babies Atticus understandably find themselves defensive, reminding folks they named their child after Atticus the hero, not the racist.

We like our heroes to live happily ever after. But they rarely do.

This dilemma highlights one of the many tricky truths of our humanity, a troubling reality about all our heroes and about all of us. We can be at once so amazing, so brave, so godly, even as we are also so wretched, so nasty, so unbelievably ignorant. Yet when it comes to heroes - literary or otherwise - we tend to forget this.

It shouldn’t be so hard to imagine that Atticus Finch was racist - as so many of his generation and locale were - and that he managed to step beyond that for a time. And so parents don’t need to choose between the "good" and "bad" Atticus. They can be - and apparently are - one and the same.  

This duality should be familiar to those of us who’ve studied the Bible. Sheesh, we’re hit with the horror and complexity of humanity from the get-go. Just a few chapters in we find God’s favorite couple: Abram and Sarai. Then, God’s chosen leader: Moses. And my favorite: God’s beloved David. These heroes of the faith knew a thing or two about being doubters, procrastinators – even downright villains!

And yet, we still name our babies Sarah, David, Abraham and Moses. And it’s fine. It’s all good. Even if the people weren’t always good as we may have liked them to be.

We like our heroes to live happily ever after. But they rarely do. Though we cling to verses about the new creation in Christ and talk as if the faith-filled life is always on the up and up, it ain’t. We stumble. We backtrack. We fall into pits so deep, like David, we think we’ll never escape.

But God’s there, working, redeeming, renewing. Offering fresh starts, new mercies every day. This is the hero story we need to tell our kids - no matter their name.

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