A few weeks after Jem was born (this was four years ago, in case you’ve lost count), I realized that for the first time since I was seventeen years old, I had no names in the queue for a future boy baby. It had been so long since I had come up with a name from scratch that I feared I wouldn’t be able to do it, and I’d be one of those desperate moms in the postpartum unit flipping through the baby name book for last-minute inspiration.
(Yes, you read this correctly…these thoughts came to me while I was holding a newborn. What can I say, I like to think ahead.)
We’ve fallen into a pattern as we’ve named our children: Stephen likes names from the Bible, I like names from literature or history. It’s been a helpful set of parameters to help us narrow down our choices and pick names that are full of meaning for both of us.
So although I was searching for a new boy name with some intention, my final inspiration came unexpectedly, as I was in the middle of reading a mediocre novel about twin brothers separated at birth. The only important detail about this book is that one of the boys was named Nat, and about halfway through the book it was as if a light from heaven illuminated the name on the page. Seriously, it was as magical and as certain as the moment that Jacob Black laid eyes on Renesmee for the first time.
Nathaniel, of course! But not because of that silly book, which shall not be named, but (How had I not thought of this earlier!?!??) after one of my longest-standing literary crushes in one of my most beloved books of all time: Nathaniel Eaton from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And even more specifically, this line, which makes me swoon every time I read it:
It had been Nat from the beginning, she admitted now, and with that knowledge came a sureness that she had never known in all the last bewildering year.
It was not escape that she had dreamed of, it was love. And love was Nat.
Stephen was not convinced at first (he couldn’t get over the Nat/gnat homophone), but he came around eventually. How could he argue, after all, when I had imprinted on the name, AND when there is a Nathanael in the Bible? (He’s a good namesake, too: he is the disciple “in whom there is no guile” who demonstrates humility, repentance, and faith in just a few verses.)
For Nathaniel’s middle name, we wanted something strong and theological, naturally. We settled on Owen, after the English Puritan John Owen. (Since the one flaw of The Witch of Blackbird Pond is its unsympathetic portrayal of Puritans, I felt like this was a good way to make amends.)
Among people who care about such things, Owen is regarded as a great thinker and passionate theologian, relentless in his pursuit of spiritual growth and understanding (His most famous work is entitled The Mortification of Sin.). So, not a bad role model at all.
Nathaniel was born on March 2, which is Texas Independence Day, and in 2017, which is the year we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. All in all, we couldn’t be more pleased about all the symbolic weight piled on our last-born.
To be a guileless sin-slayer, Texas proud, committed to the ideals of the Reformation, whose cornflower blue eyes sparkle with mischief and humor. That’s all we ask, Baby Nat; the rest is totally up to you.
(Baby name junkies: You might also enjoy Why Her Name is Abigail, the last question in Baby Sam FAQs, As in Finch, not as in Halpert (why we named him Jem), and It’s a Girl! And Why We Named Her Leah)