From Battle Sites to Baby Names

My brother sent me a link from today that had me thinking about our girls’ names (I realize that I think about their names often, but this time I mean think-thinking about them–you know, really thinking, not just calling out a name when I need someone to grab a baby wipe). Apparently there are tours being developed of the hot spots and murals that came out of the three decades of fighting during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland. That’s right, folks, just like at Gettysburg, you can now trace the steps of a revolution…even if those battles didn’t work out quite so well for the ones revolting. If we can learn anything at all from witnessing this particular battle site (Cemetery Hill, say) or that riot (Bombay Street,1969), then by all means let’s keep that vigil. But I’m not here to talk about wars…

…because as usual, I’m talking about my kids. More specifically, my babies’ names, which is why you’re reading this in the first place (right? Or did you google “Civil War” and somehow land on my blog by accident? Sorry, man. But hey, thanks for reading!). I knew a girl in college with the name Saoirse. She was super proud of the name to the point of defensiveness (which I guess is to be expected when you have to spell it out every time you make a dinner reservation). She told me that it was pronounced “SEER-sha,” though in my house it usually gets abbreviated to “SEERSH,” and that it was the Irish word for “freedom”and because of that, pretty political. Well, I’ll be, I thought. The name stuck with me, and when David and I found out we were having a baby, Saoirse ended up being one of the names to which we kept coming back. It was just so pretty, and doggoned powerful. Freedom. What a gift, we thought, to give our child such an honorable name (are you laughing? That’s not nice). Wow, we thought. We’re sold.

And then our beautiful daughter was born, sweet and lovely, with a big bruise on her head from her tortured attempt to get out of her Momma and a husky cry that was, I daresay, actually pretty (even at 2 a.m. we still thought this, so that’s saying something). We hugged  her, we smiled at each other, and when the doctor asked what we were naming her, we froze. Could we do this to her, we asked? Would she hate us for giving her a name that people would pronounce “Say-oh-I-arse?” So the poor kid hung around the hospital for a couple of days nameless. Our family and friends would come into the room, all giggles and sighs, pick her up and coo, “Well, hello there, um, uh…you!” We kept second-guessing ourselves, but at the end–two days later, when the blank birth certificate arrived at my bedside, waiting to be signed–we said, yes, we can do this. She can handle this. She’s strong, and new and obviously massively intelligent even at the age of two days (That’s new parenthood for you) and worthy of the responsibility of that name. So we named her Saoirse. And gave her Kate as a middle name just in case when she does turn 13 and hates us she can decide to go with the easier moniker so her shady, not-smart-enough-for-her boyfriend can spell it out in the lousy love songs he writes for her.

So that’s the story of Daughter the Elder. With Younger, Quinlan was a name that we’d tossed around as a possibility for a boy when I was carrying soon-to-be-Saoirse (oh, maybe I shouldn’t write that. Quinn’s going to be sooo angry with me when she reads this one day). We’d forgotten about it until it popped up again when I was watching Glee one night, of all things. Yes, I fell in love with my future daughter’s name after viewing her fictional snotty, pregnant, mean, ridiculous cheerleader namesake on tv. I didn’t say I was proud. But I loved it. Dave liked it. We went back and forth about it (Quinn or Quinlan? Give her a nickname as a full name, or give her a full name and call her by a nickname? Oh, heads of state should have such decisions) until I hefted my swollen belly into a church for Confession one Wednesday before Easter. Lo and behold, my priest, with his lovely Irish accent, was named Father Quinlan. Hallelujah! I mentally shouted. It’s a sign! I went racing home and burst into the house to tell my non-Catholic husband how a priest just inadvertently named our baby. He was a little skeptical, but the meaning of those names won him over: Intelligence. Strength. It looked like we had ourselves a name to compete with all the glory of Saoirse. Amen.

I bring all this up because on page 6 of that CNN link is a mural entitled “Saoirse.” (As Paul said, our eldest daughter would sure be popular in half of Belfast) And while, yes, the picture depicts the faces of the 10 Irish Republicans who died on a hunger strike, and yes, emaciation and defiance aren’t exactly the images that spring to mind when I think of my dear little girl, it was neat to see her name plastered up on a wall as a statement (because you know we’re never going to find pencils or key chains with our kids’ names engraved on them). So there you have it: just like that girl I knew 15 years ago, I’m proud. We gave our girls names to live up to, to embody, and it was worth all that back and forth to get there. Just don’t ask me what we would’ve done if we’d had a boy.

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