The gift of a name: I have been thinking a lot about that lately. The other evening, I took my younger two daughters to see the movie Ladybird about a free spirited, still searching senior in high school who changes her given name of Christina to “Ladybird". I thought about how that action must have felt for her parents who sat up nights thinking about names that they both liked, that had special meaning to them, free of negative connotations and that sang well with her last name.
I also took them to see the magically creative movie Loving Vincent about Vincent Van Gogh, his art, his life and his mysterious death. In the movie I learned that his mother had a stillbirth exactly one year before Vincent was born and had also named that baby Vincent. The narrator says, “Vincent was the oldest, but not the first.” His parents buried the stillborn boy in a nearby church graveyard so that when Vincent would walk over with his melancholy mother to visit, he would stare at a tombstone that said his exact name: Vincent Willem Van Gogh. It is believed that having his brother’s name and not his own name had a profound effect on his psyche and that Vincent never felt like he could measure up to his dead brother.
It made me think of a very special gift that Glenn and I gave to Margaret: her name; her own name. And when her younger sisters, Winnie and Lila, were born, they were given their own names as well. Margaret’s name is powerful. Margaret is the name of my late maternal grandmother, a heroine and role model in my life and is also the name of my aunt (her daughter) and of my wonderful sister, Kim. We had planned on nicknaming her Margo, but never to know if that would stick, she is known to all of us as Margaret. Her middle name, Minehart, is my middle name, the German surname of my maternal grandfather.
Not many people met Margaret, to be exact only five besides doctors and nurses. She met her parents, her paternal grandmother, our minister and the hospital chaplain. Nobody knew her. But her name, has given her a presence, a life to her siblings, her cousins and extended family and to all those who knew of her birth and death. A name creates a soul, a face, a personality, a story.I often think about all the beautiful names of stillborn babies in heaven. I learned several of their names after I lost Margaret by talking, walking, and crying with their mothers. When I pray for each of their souls at night, each one is distinct in my mind because of his/her name.
During the 19th century, when Van Gogh was born, parents were encouraged to move on as fast as possible, to not hold their baby or solidify a relationship with their dead child because these dead babies were not seen as part of the family. Maybe that is why his mother chose to name her next son after the first, so that it might help her move on.
I was often saddened that there was not much my husband and I could give to Margaret besides the promise of our everlasting love and a name. But over the years, I have come to realize that the gift of a name is profound. To all those parents who have recently or not so recently lost a baby: During this holiday season, take solace in the fact that giving your baby a name is and will always be a truly, beautiful gift.