The Death of Names

Not sure if you heard: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian named their baby girl “North”.

That’s right. The girl’s name will forever be North West.

North West. Like, “Hey girl, which way da club? Dat way? Northwest?”

For the Catholic, names are incredibly important. Just like our souls, they are given, yet chosen. They are preordained, yet subject to our own choices. They are, in the end, signs of the identity we can never shake, and the hope of who we just might become.

While some women receive a new name in marriage, and while religious often gain a new one with their vows, there are two moments in which every Catholic takes a name.

The first is at their Baptism. The second, their Confirmation.

The first is given. The second, chosen.

And such is life.

This life is given to us by God, and, in many ways, it is shaped and set without our say so by those people who come before us; namely, our families.

I once was talking to my brother-in-law after watching a fascinating movie he recommended called “Waiting for Superman”, and I remember him saying to me, “Surely you would agree that education is the biggest determining factor in a person’s opportunities for fulfillment.”

I paused, and thought. “No,” I said. “It’s the family.”

Every day I show up to work as a teacher, I go in knowing that I am, at best, second fiddle. The kids who succeed (depending, of course, on how you define the word) are, typically speaking, those whose parents are together and whose parents try to love each other and their kids.

That’s it. That’s all it really takes.

Those who struggle socially and academically and spiritually almost always come from broken homes, from families devastated by legal divorce or at least by the de facto divorce of houses crumbling from silence and bitterness and absence. It is undoubtedly the biggest stumbling block in many kids lives.

For whatever faults they have, my parents stayed together. So did my wife’s. And all four of them tried to love their kids (including their new kids-in-law). That, in all honesty, is far more important to the success of our marriage and our parenting and our careers and our social lives than any degree we’ve earned.

Not every one is as blessed by God and the choices of their families as I or my wife. But that’s how life works: people’s actions matter, our choices impact others, and not everyone is going to start from the same place.

Our names are much the same. God gave us to our parents, but they decided who they want us to be. And they pick a name to show that, without asking for our input at all.

My mom wanted to name me after my dad (whose legal name is John), but he didn’t want that, so they settled on Shane, which is a Gaelic form of John.

This communicates to me that I am connected to my ancestors from Ireland, that my mother is pleased that I am my father’s son, and that I can be like any number of men who had my name (or some permutation of it) and became a saint.

What a beautiful identity.

And it takes on more meaning as time goes on. When one of my best friends found out that Shane was a form of John, he wrote in a letter to me how he thought that fit because I reminded him of Christ’s “beloved disciple”.

That one comment changed forever the way I thought of myself, of who I could be, of who I was made to be. And it was all because of my name.

But life is not simply given. While there is much outside of our control, while our families form us and guide us and mess us up, eventually, we have a say.

At the Sacrament of Confirmation, we choose our name. We choose who we want to be. We don’t discard the old name, nor do we replace it. It, after all, is the name we received when we entered both our biological and spiritual families. It will forever be a part of us, and God wishes it to be so.

But our choices matter, too. I’m not sure most kids know why they pick the name they do, but I think confirmation names tend to take on significance as time passes and we learn more about ourselves and our saints.

For instance, I chose St. Michael. At the time, I think it was mostly because I liked the sound of the name. But as I look back at who I was in seventh grade, how scared I was, how nervous, how unaware of my strength, I can see that in that choice is some element, whether conscious or not, of a desire for battle. A desire to be tested. A desire to fight for the Kingdom.

That’s who I wanted to be. And so, that’s the name I chose.

I feel bad for Kanye’s kid, because the identity her parents chose for her seems to be that of a joke. I don’t know him or his wife, so I don’t speak with authority, but it seems to me little more than a publicity stunt.

But the beauty of this life, of mine and North’s, is that we have a say, too. We are not limited by the sins of our fathers. We are not only the brokenness we were born into. We are called by God, perfected by His grace, and enabled through the fierce mercy of our free will to become who we choose.

We must both know where we come from and where we wish to go, and we should carry that knowledge with us always. It should be a part of our choices and our thoughts, our songs and our prayers, and we should be ready to tell people exactly who we are when asked.

Below is the second best “name” moment from a movie (the first is John Proctor in The Crucible, which I linked to in this post). This man knows his name.

May we all find our identity and be willing to fight and die for it, for when we die for our truest selves, we die for that piece of the Divine God saw fit to splash on our souls.

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2 Responses to The Death of Names

  1. dad says:

    One of your best ever! Thanks for the thoughts!
    love forever and always . . . ass!

  2. While I don’t defend the couple naming their child “North”, I strongly suspect that it will be the least of young Ms. West’s familial struggles.

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