What’s in a Name?

By Kate McKinney

I once saw on Sesame Street a vignette about a man whose children all had 26 names each, one for every letter of the alphabet. This fired my imagination and when I wasn’t working on Barbie fashion design my notebooks were turned over to naming my future children.

Annabella Bernice Constance Deborah Elizabeth Francesca Gabriella Hannah…Anthony Benjamin Conrad Daniel Edward Frederick Gregory Hansel..and so on. There were old fashioned names and flowery names and family names. I culled ideas from the Bible, from literature, from words I thought were beautiful. I eventually moved past the concept of 26 names per child and concentrated on the classic two name combo. I wrote the names of my future children in my diary, along with drawings of roses and women’s eyes and my first name paired with the last name of pop stars or other unattainable boys.

The way I feel about naming children is very influenced by the way my siblings were named. My parents have four children. I am Katharine Shea. My mom chose an unusual spelling although spelling Katharine with two A’s is closer to the original Greek. Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was an influence, and Katharine Hepburn. Mom also wanted to name a girl Katie in response to the popularity of the name Kathy in the 50s and 60s, not realizing that many other woman had the same idea. Katharine means Pure, a word I have never felt that I could live up to. Mom found Shea in the newspaper and thought the two names paired nicely.

Me: “Mom, I know that Katharine means pure but what does Shea mean?”

Mom: “Agony.”

My siblings are Edward Ransom, Ian Matthew, and Jeremy Gabriel. Edward is a family name on the Soper side, and Ransom is the name of the doctor in C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. My husband Hugh can’t forgive my parents for using the name Ransom before he had a chance to. According to my mother Matthew is the only name that really goes with Ian, evidenced by the fact that every Ian we have ever met has Matthew for his middle name. My mother also claims that in the 80s if you took longer than 3 days to name your child you had to give the kid a name starting with the letter J, which is how she got Jeremy. Gabriel is the last name of a character in a novel my parents wrote 25 years ago but never published. The character’s first name is Hugh. My husband is named Hugh. This furthers my suspicion that naming, of children or characters, can be a supernatural business.

I’m pretty firmly convinced that God names my kids, and also that he has a wicked sense of humor. My husband came to me shortly after we were married and told me he dreamed that he had a son whose middle name was Danger. Funny, I thought. Like Austin Powers. “I think we should do it,” he said. I was a little surprised, but I figured that it’s the kind of thing you have to do while you are still young and dumb enough to take a chance. Shortly after that we found out we were pregnant, and I had to find a name that went with Danger. Jarvis was a named I found in an obscure Anne of Green Gables book, one of the Chronicles of Avonlea. Jarvis Danger certainly had a ring.

We found out later that Jarvis was German and meant “Skilled with a Spear.” AWESOME! My mother in law told us very seriously that she looked up the word “Danger” in the dictionary and that it meant “Exposure to evil. Do y’all really want to name your son something that means “Exposure to Evil?” I don’t think she was expecting us to react with such glee. “SKILLED WITH A SPEAR WHEN EXPOSED TO EVIL! YES!” A soldier born for spiritual warfare.

My husband knew that our first two children would be boys. While I was heavily pregnant with Jarvis we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. When Linus stepped out on the stage and gave the gospel to the cynical and depressed Peanuts characters we looked at each other and knew we wanted a little boy like him, and so Linus Kaspar was named before his older brother was even born! Kaspar is the German spelling of the name Gaspar, one of the Magi who presented gifts to the Christ Child. It means “Keeper of the Treasure.” And truly this little boy has a great treasure stored up in his little heart. He is amazingly articulate and thoughtful for a boy his age, and I think he lives up to his moniker well.

My friend Kristen had commented once on how “pretty and sweet” my Grandma Alice’s name is. I began to look at it in a whole new light. I named my daughter for my dear Grandma, who is like another mother to me, and for Mary Magdalene, the mysterious woman in the Bible who was a follower of Christ, and was even present at his death. Alice means “Noble” and my prayer is that my Alice Magdalene will be as noble and humble as the women she is named for.

The naming of children always seems to take place for us way in advance. Some people have to get to know the child first but for us the names arrive years before the child does. We have always been fond of the name Lucy, or Lucille. I even had a great-grandmother named Lula. While in Georgia we got to spend a lot of time with Hugh’s Grandmomma, Eva. I was thinking about what a great lady she is and the name Eva Lucille floated into my mind. I told Hugh and he said “I thought of that two days ago!” Confirmation again! It seems the McKinneys are not done (a fact I was already sure of) but this cinched it.

I call Alice “Magda” because of her middle name and if we have an Eva then that is two out of three Gabor sisters. Will Zsa Zsa be daughter number three? I guess God will have to let us know.


  1. Steph says:

    Steve and I decided years ago that if we ever had a daughter we wanted to name her Noel Elizabeth. I wanted to carry on the Christmas family name without actually naming my child Christmas. Who knows, maybe God will surprise us with her before we are too old to have kids. Of course Abraham and Sarah thought they were too old and look what happened to them, but I really don’t want to be pregnant and giving birth in my 80′s or 90′s.

  2. Jondi says:

    CRAP! If I have a girl before you I might steal Lucille! I, too, love that name! But then again, I am convinced that Jeremy and I will get pregnant sometime in the first 1 and a half of our marriage and we will have a boy….Giles Livingston Soper.

  3. Erin says:

    I never thought about how our names were/are chosen in advance. That’s a great insight. Ed & I picked out the name Ransom Lucas way before we were ever married. And I’m glad your mom & dad got to the name Ransom before you & Hugh did! ;o)

    This time around, we’ve had a very difficult time settling on a girl’s name…mainly because I’ve only ever had one girl name on standby. Lately, we’ve toyed with the idea that if we have a girl this time around and she’s born near Christmas Day, we’ll name her Miriam Noelle. Miriam means “God has added another child” – something that I find very amusing because we were definately not planning on another baby this soon. And for God to have added another child at Christmas is even wilder! Not to mention the family ties to the Christmas name.

  4. kevmoore says:

    Well, given recent events in the Sudan, I certainly won’t be naming anyone or anything Mohammed anytime soon………..

  5. familyforest says:

    Names and more names and connections, like you know that “six degrees of separation ” concept at:

    I have a K at the beginning of my name instead of a Ch like most people spell Kristine…my father was responsible for that…thank God. I like it with a K even though not everyone spelled my name correctly.

    I was inspired by Katharine Hepburn in “The Lion In Winter” who portrayed her own ancestor see: http://www.familyforest.com/captainslog/11.html
    and http://familyforest.wordpress.com/2007/08/16/

    Blessings and Merry Christmas to all!

  6. Maggie says:

    I love day dreaming about what we’ll name our children some day. Being that we’ve been trying to get pregnant for about a year and four months, I think about it more than normal. Me and my momma’s middle name is Ann so I figure that has to be somwhere in my little girl’s name… whether or not it ends up that way, who knows!!! My girl names I have picked out are Meredith Grace (and not because of Grey’s Anatomy, even though I love that show!!! But because I went to church with an old man and Meredith was his name. He was like a “stand-in grandpa” for me and was sweet as could be), Johnny Ann (John is my grandpa and brother’s name and I think it’s ADORABLE for a girl!!) and my boy names are David Michael Lee (David Michael is my dad’s name and Lee is the hubby’s middle name) and Andrew James (A.J).

  7. Ian says:

    I knew only one other Ian in High School. It was Ian Matthew Weatherford. I guess mom was right.

    Ian = Scottish Gaelic John = YAHWEH is Gracious
    Matthew = gift of YAHWEH

    Ian Matthew = Gift of a Gracious YAHWEH, or Gracious Gift of God.

    I love my name!

  8. katemckinneycake says:

    Your name rules! Agreed!

    This essay was by no means exhaustive. There were so many other interesting name stories I wanted to squeeze in there!

  9. Heather says:

    I’m just going to keep saying it because it’s true: I LOVE your blog. Thank you so much for finding time to write!!

    My next boy is going to be born in January. I always felt like I was going to have 2 boys first, too. Since everyone else wrote out their name stories, here are mine:

    Our first is named Lewis Victor (Lewis means “winner of a famous battle” and Victor means “victorious,” so, a victorious winner of a famous battle – to us, spiritual in context.) Lewis was my husband’s grandfather’s name (but his gpa HATED that name and didn’t go by it), but he’s not named after the grandfather, but more after C.S. Lewis. Victor is my dad’s name.

    The second one will be (is already named) Evander Timothy.

    Evander = “Good man” (“ev” like the “ev” in evangel = good news. At first I was like, meh, good man, that’s not a very strong meaning, but with the knowledge that it’s the same good as the good news good, well, that makes me think that the kind of good in his name is a life-changing kind of good)
    Timothy = “honoring God” (Timothy is my husband’s dad’s name).

    Sidenote, I love this name meaning website: http://www.behindthename.com/. It’s the opposite of those annoying pink baby naming websites!

  10. Cheryl says:

    Ian is right about the meaning of his name, but he left out one important aspect of his naming. He was the “buy one, get one free” baby (second twin), our bonus “gift” from a gracious God!

  11. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for sharing more about the names you chose. I love reading up on baby names and the trends, and of course the reasons behind the name.