26 October 2010

Baby Names: Why my boy's name is a sentence

As many of you may know, we will be having our fifth baby in just a few months (February 28th). I just recently got over the fact that next year isn't 2012, so there is no chance of the baby being born on Leap Day, so please don't bring it up.

With it being right around the corner, I've started reflecting on what kinds of names I like.

No, we're not finding out (at least until the baby is born), so we're doubling our work to come up with good boy and girl names.

Yes, our kids have very unique names. Did you know, for example, that Remi's full name is a sentence?

Joshua Remington Cummings

No, he wasn't named after the gun as hilarious as that would be now that we live in Herriman, UT.

Our first child was born in August 2004. We knew this name a couple weeks before he was born. Originally, we were going to go with "Joseph Remington Cummings," but, as you will find out, it's all about the meaning of the name for me.

Back when I was in high school, I liked to listen to John Bytheway (actually, I still do). He tells a great story about when he was in the 7th grade learning about prepositional phrases when, in a moment, it dawned on him that "Bytheway" is a prepositional phrase: "By the way". That meant that if he had a kid and gave her a middle name that was a verb, her name would be a sentence; "Sally Ran Bytheway". Thus, a life goal was set. My first child's name would be a sentence.

Of course, I didn't want my children to resent such an obviously geeky maneuver by "loving" parents, so I decided that I would encode it somehow (which, of course, makes it 10 times geekier, but, hey).

While we were looking through baby name books and websites, we found the name 'Remington'. The name's meaning is very, very important to me, and so we looked it up. It turns out that hremm is the Old English for raven. ing means 'people of' and ton means town. ington was often attached to the end of a people, group, or individual. For example, Washington means 'Wassa's place' or 'from Wassa's place' or 'from the place of Wassa'. Thus, Remington means 'Raven's place' (if Raven were a person's name) or 'from Raven's place'. It could also be 'from the raven's place' since 'raven' also refers to the bird.

If you've put two and two together, you will see that Remington, when translated back into Old English, is a prepositional phrase. Eureka! Now, all I need is a noun for the first name, and we are set!

For that, we turn to Hebrew. Lots of transliterated Hebrew names start with Jos. Josiah, Joseph, and Joshua are just a few. Also, incidentally, many end in iah for the same reason, like Jeremiah, Obadiah, Zedekiah, etc. 'Jos' is a transliteration of 'Yeh' (or 'Yesh'), which refers to 'Yehovah', or Jehovah, Savior, Lord, etc. The 'shua' comes from the Hebrew word 'yasha' meaning salvation, help, deliverance, etc.

One of the practices that was common in ancient Hebrew was to take to words and lexically intertwine them as an indication that the two concepts were inseparable. An example is the name 'Abinadi'. The name for father in Hebrew is 'Ab' and the name for son is 'Bin'. Common Hebrew practice might have lead a mother to name their child 'Abin' in order to manifest her assertion that father and son are intertwined, just like the words 'Ab' and 'Bin' have been lexically joined at the hip. Remember Mosiah 15:3 where Abinadi teaches that the Father and Son are one?

Anyway, this could be what was done with the name Yeshua. Take the word Yesh and the word Yasha and join the 'sh' to get Yeshua. Or, 'God IS salvation', 'God IS help', etc. as opposed to 'God is help' or 'God is salvation'. The implication is clear: God himself is inseparable from the concept of help and salvation.

Now, let's put them together:

Joshua = God is help
+ Remington = From the raven's home
Joshua Remington = God is help from the raven's home

Success! You'll notice that I took some poetic license and used 'home' instead of 'place', but I think that's fair. He is my son, thank you very much. :)

The meaning of the name as a whole is poignant. There are a couple of instances in the Bible where raven's were important to providing help/temporal salvation to prophets. One is in Genesis when Noah sends out ravens to try and find branches, etc. After that, he sends the dove. Another is that ravens fed Elijah during a famine. The message is clear: God uses raven's to help his prophets, and God will use my son (as he can use all of us) to help them, too.

As a quick aside, you may notice that the name 'Jesus' doesn't follow any of the standard Hebrew norms norms. It starts with a J, but not 'Jos'. That's because the word Jesus is a transliteration of the Greek name Iesous (remember that the New Testament that we have was translated from the Greek). Jesus's name, as spoken by his contemporaries, was probably the Aramaic name Jeshua, which, in turn, would be Yeshua or Joshua in Hebrew.

There are a zillion other reasons why Joshua is a cool name, including the Biblical history of Joshua of Israel.

Needless to say, we did well.

Isaac Samuel Cummings

Our second son was born in June 2006. This time, Kristi and I each wrote down ten names first names that we liked for each gender. We considered several. Everett, Aidan, Zachary, etc.

We liked Zachary Aidan Cummings for several reasons. First, it is lexically cool because his short name, Zac, would also be his initials Z.A.C. That would distinguish his nerdy name from his sentence-bearing nerdy brother, too. The meaning was also neat. Zachary is a Hebrew name that means 'The Lord remembers' (zakar = remember, iah = Jehovah => Zechariah, or Zachary). Aidan is Gaelic for 'Little fire'. Since we banked on having all redheads, we thought the name 'The Lord remembers Little Fire' would be cute.

But we didn't.

Instead, we did something cooler. See, there is another name that has that 'zak' sound in it. That name is Isaac. Isaac is an interesting Hebrew name because it isn't a juxtaposition of two Hebrew names, but instead it is just one word in the present third-person:
Yitschaq or 'he laughs'. He harks back to when Abraham and Sarah were told that they would have a son at their old age and Sarah laughed at the prospect, considering herself too old to carry a child. (I also like to think that the Bible very patriarchal, according to their culture, and the fact that Sarah might have also laughed in happiness might not have been conveyed through the written word. That's the gospel by Josh, though.)

We liked Isaac because we liked the idea of calling him 'Zac' for short. Now, instead of a juxtaposition, we create a bifurcation. (I've always wanted to use that word in a sentence.) 'Zac' points both to the Hebrew name that means 'he laughs' and the Hebrew name that means 'the Lord remembers'. While there is a possibly ominous way to look at the connection of meanings, we prefer the happier one: When ever we laugh (or cry, or speak, or wonder), the Lord remembers. The two names are joined externally by the common short name instead of internally with a longer name.

Isaac was also neat because of a number of people from history that I respect. The first is Isaac from the Bible for his bravery and loyalty. The second is Isaac Cummings, the brave soul that immigrated to the United States in the 1600s. The third is Isaac Newton, the very shy but brilliant mathematician and physicist that played a key role in making our modern world possible. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of information on only the first and last individuals. I'm not aware of too many historical documents regarding Isaac Cummings, our immigrant ancestor.

Even though it would mean two Hebrew names, we really liked Samuel. There are a couple of possibilities for translation. The suffix 'el' refers to God. Bethel = house of God, Ariel = lion of God, etc. 'Sam' refers to the word shama meaning 'to hear'. When translated as the past-participle, we get
Shĕmuw'el or 'heard of God'.

If you remember those on the ark with Noah, you will remember that one of his sons was 'Shem', which looks a lot like the beginning of the Hebrew form of Samuel. One of the translations of 'shem' is like the word 'heard'; it means 'renowned' or 'known' or 'named'. You can see the semantic tie between someone who is heard and someone who is renowned. So, a possible translation of Samuel (perhaps I am taking poetic license, though) is 'renowned of God' or 'named of God'.

The point is that Isaac's name is a chorus of ancient meanings that remind us that we are God's children. We are renowed of Him, and he is aware of our laughs, our cries, our hopes, and our dreams. 'He laughs and God hears him', 'God remembers for my boy is renowned of Him'.

To be continued...

Alright, I should get to work. It looks like this will need to be a part one. I'll let you about our other two kids and about what names we might have for our new little one later!
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Jennifer Eliza said...

Josh I never realized what I geek you were. I knew you were a math geek but your reasoning behind Remi's & Zac's names takes your geekiness to a whole new level.
I just can't see Zachary Aidan. I think Isaac just fits Zac so much better than Zachary, so a very good choice.
I can't wait to read about your explanation for how you came up with Lici's & Serri's names and the possible names for the expected little one.

Señor Jr. said...

My son's name was also going to be recursive: Victor Israel Cummings, or VIC. My wife, who has not read GEB, shot that down.
Sigh. When I hear about spouses being equally yoked, instead of imagining a yoke of oxen, I think of the video for "Beat It."