Matt Knutson: What’s in a name? Selecting one is no easy task

Published 8:27 pm Thursday, November 2, 2017

Things I Tell My Wife by Matt Knutson

“Should we ask them if they have any pregnancy tests?” I whispered to my wife as we arrived at the hospital to deliver our second daughter. She laughed for me, but on the inside, I’m sure she was glad I could no longer make jokes like that. Nine months had flown by, and suddenly a fresh baby was cooing and squealing at us at volumes that echoed off the hospital room walls. Maeva Rose had entered our world ready to disrupt any sense of normalcy we had developed over the past 21 months since Gracelyn arrived, and we’re so thankful for her.

To be honest, we needed her. We longed for hope, new creation — something to look forward to in otherwise trying times. The world outside of our home has been so heart-wrenching since roughly a year ago, and it seemed every day came with a new burden or stress that made the future seem bleak. Our family of three was at times the only light we felt as we read headlines of hatred and bigotry and saw a nation of hope transition into a time of unceasing worry. Then, on Valentine’s Day, we found out a little rosebud was beginning to bloom.

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Naming children is no easy task, and settling on the name Maeva Rose was a long process. Our other daughter’s name, Gracelyn Nomena, means roughly, “God’s unmerited favor given to us.” When our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, we didn’t know what our future held regarding children. That loss allowed us to acknowledge the blessings we already had and motivated us to acknowledge that whatever comes our way should be treasured — for certainly, we aren’t owed anything in this life. Gracelyn’s named also represents our native countries, with an “American” name of Grace and a Malagasy name of Nomena. Finally, the name Grace has a religious connotation and lends itself so beautifully to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I wasn’t sure how we could bring that life-naming process to fruition again, but I did know that this new little one would be worthy of the task.

I remember when Sera suggested we give our next child a Malagasy first name. I loved the idea, but my very practical side worried about the possible long-term consequences for that decision. I’ve heard of the study that proves having a white-sounding name was 50 percent more likely to get a call back for an interview, and I wondered what other implications a non-white sounding name might have for our little one’s future. After all, everyone reading this column knows my wife by Sera, but that’s really an abbreviated version of her middle name. You probably couldn’t pronounce her first name on your first try. These are things a lot of parents don’t have to think about, but when you’re in a multicultural household, it’s easy to become hyper sensitive to it.

Maeva allows our little one to shorten it to Eva if she ever finds it advantageous. I think we’re hoping to live in a world where that isn’t necessary, but until more people begin to acknowledge that diversity makes us stronger, it’s a nice backup. More importantly, Maeva is a Malagasy name that means “lovely” in Madagascar. There was something about transitioning an adjective to a proper noun that made me fall in love with it. Deciding to pair it with Rose was an even longer journey. Of course, “lovely rose” has some powerful imagery with it, but I had hoped for a spiritual component as well. Then I recalled a hymn, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” and immediately knew that Rose would be part of our girl’s name. The line, “It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-gone was the night,” perfectly described the emotions we felt that Feb. 14 when the pregnancy test revealed our family would be blossoming.

It was pure happenstance that her delivering doctor, who we met for the first time on her birthday, was named Dr. Rose. I also didn’t even make the leap between roses and our new connection to Valentine’s Day until I was writing this article. How fitting.

My jokes about needing my very pregnant wife to take a pregnancy test may be retired, but with another little girl in the house, I think my dad jokes should be doubling. Also doubling — the number of diapers in the house. As the Shakespeare reference goes, “A rose by any other name would smell as … sweet.”

Matt Knutson is a communications specialist in Rochester.