If our most common conversation on a long car ride is the million dollar question *1*, then the conversation Donnette and I have the second most often on such trips is, “what are we going to name our next child?” I must be easily influenced by road signs, because I usually ask Donnette this question after passing by a particularly hard to pronounce city, and I want to get a rise out of her. “How would you feel about the name Rutherfordton…for a girl?” *2* I’ll ask, and she’ll say no, and I’ll ask why, and this carries us on for quite awhile. We decided to start trying to have children about 4 years ago, but these conversations predate that decision by several years. Even in the early years of our marriage we would throw names around for our imaginary children, too often remembering that when it came to names, we did not exactly see eye to eye.
As my mom tells the story, she did not want to name me Christopher. She wanted to name me David Michael, or Matthew David, or some other Roman Catholic sounding name. *3* My mom liked Christopher well enough, but it’s nickname, Chris, to her sounded like a girls name, and she positively did not want me to go by Chris. And, to her credit, my mom did everything she could to keep me from being the child formerly known as Christopher. Family was instructed that my name was Christopher, not Chris. *4* Teachers received notes every September reminding them that my name was Christopher, and they should call me that and not the easier nickname. Even now, to think about the amount of diligence my mom put in to keep me from the abbreviation makes me want to take a nap, especially when you realize that, despite her absolute best efforts, by the time I was 13 I was introducing myself by “Chris.” What can I say, middle school is a difficult time for everyone, and in my desire to not make any more waves than I needed to I succumbed to the pressure. I could be wrong, but mom might have preferred I keep Christopher and just taken up smoking.
I’ve never been privy to the conversation that led to Donnette’s name. It’s a hybrid of her parents names, that’s all I know. It’s funny, because ordinarily I am more the type to want to stand out in a crowd, while Donnette is far more content to blend into the scenery, yet when it comes to names, we are the exact opposite. She loves her name, loves how unique it is, loves that it is her own and no one else’s. *5* It doesn’t bother her that people often have difficulty pronouncing it, even more difficulty spelling it, and even a tougher time getting it right for the purposes of billing. *6* All I can say about it is that it fits her, it is her name, she owns it, and I love her and I love it.
We’ve agreed on exactly one girl name, ever. Donnette and I just differ on what we consider to be important when it comes to girls names, and neither one of us are inclined to back down. *7* We came across Avonlea quite by accident, while driving home to a friends wedding back in 2009. At the time, we didn’t even know if we were having a boy or a girl, but in the event that it was a girl, we felt the need to be properly prepared. We’d actually spent a good portion of the trip going back and forth with our name suggestions, but had made little headway and had actually given up for the time being. It wasn’t until we were just outside of Gainesville that a song came on the radio, and the name of that song was good, but not close enough, but it reminded Donnette of the Anne of Green Gables series, specifically the second book, Anne of Avonlea, and there you go. We both liked it, really liked it, liked it enough to share it with no one so that their opinion couldn’t hold sway until it was too late for us to change our minds. *8*
Oliver was named with France in mind. Our first choice for a boy, and the name that Avonlea would have likely been given had she been born the rougher sex, was Porter. I liked Porter, I still do, and would’ve probably given it to my son had we not decided to move our family to France. If you’re at all familiar with the old English, then you probably know that at one time, a porter was a person who opened doors for a living, like a doorman. Many common English names have this sort of association, it’s just common place. The problem is, and not being fluent in French, I can’t absolutely affirm this to be true, but in France the name Porter sounds remarkably similar to the conjugation of the verb “to open.” *8D* In simpler terms, imagine a kid coming to the states with the name “door opener.” No way that kid is getting a date to prom. By contrast, Oliver is a popular name in France, olive farming remaining an important staple of French agriculture. Oliver is a literary name, it starts with a vowel *9* and it was the name of my favorite professor in seminary, and so it seemed like a natural choice.
I bring all of this up, because it seems that one aspect of missionary living is that it is necessary to go by the French version of our names once we reach their shores. I’d never really given this much thought, as I assumed that one’s name did not change with a change in geography. Granted, I knew that we used to do this to our immigrant population, *10* but I thought in our new and enlightened era we had all moved beyond this sort of behavior. *11* However, it seems that I was wrong, and in order to properly fit in, there will have to be some name changing.
For me, I think the change will involve a lengthening of my name to Christophe, or something like that. I have no idea how long it will take me to get used to that, but there’s good money that says it will take me longer than it should. Donnette is an interesting case, because there’s not really a French equivalent. My guess is, they will probably just say her name, but with a little bit of a French accent. *12* Avonlea is sort of in the same boat, her name won’t change much, it’ll just be pronounced with a French accent, while Oliver will simply be changed to the slightly more exotic “Olivier.” Some of the other missionaries we’ve met have needed to make more radical adjustments, with one person having decided to not use her first name and instead have the French call her by her much more accommodating middle name. I have no idea how long it would take me to get used to that, but I’m pretty sure I’d hit retirement before I got used to going by whatever the French version of Paul is.
At any rate, what was meant to be a short and pointless post has reached critical mass, especially in the footnote department. Once again, thank you all for your support and prayers. We covet them all.
*1* Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
*2* The fun thing about a suggestion like this is that it does, at least on the surface, satisfy two of the major requirements Donnette has for a girl name, that it must be at least three syllables long and uncommon. Therefore, her rejection of said name has to be based purely on aesthetics, which are always subjective, and can be argued about for at least 30 miles, 45 if I’m really bored.
*3* Mom, this isn’t meant to be an insult, just an observation.
*4* To this day, if someone calls me Christopher, it’s my assumption that you’re either directly related to me, or you’ve married someone who is, or you’re Keith Holt, because that is the sum total list of people who call me Christopher.
*5* Of course, with the advent of the internet, you quickly realize that there is no such thing as an original idea, and that there are, in fact, other Donnette’s out there. However, in the days before Facebook, she was one of a kind, and I think that’s good enough for her.
*6* Boonie Crock being the most egregious offense.
*7* Traditional wisdom here would suggest that I back down and let Donnette pick the girls names, leaving me free to name our boys whatever we want, but the way I see it, I’m going to be saying these names for the rest of my life, on some days many, many times over, and so I want to like the name we pick.
*8* Our families were a little incensed by our refusal to tell them her name, but not nearly so much as jilted strangers. People we’d never met before and would never meet again would insist we tell them the name, like we owed it to them. Personally, it just made me laugh, because if I’m not going to acquiesce to the people I love most, there’s no way I’d do so for a stranger.
*8D* Footnote from Donnette: It actually translates to ‘to carry’ but I would have had to change Chris’s next sentence as well, and while I agreed to proofread, I am not sure my editorial responsibility included major changes. I’ll find out when Chris get’s back home. My main job is to make sure he spelled everything correctly so his mother can read his posts without cringing, or listening to debates over what constitutes a ‘misspelling’ vs. a ‘wrong word.’
*9* And I do love themes…
*10* You can actually tell when someone’s family immigrated to the United States based on this very fact. If their name sounds like an indiscriminate English word, then they came before the 1860’s. If their name sounds foreign, but is spelled phonetically, then they came before the 1940’s. If their name hasn’t been changed at all. chances are pretty good the person you’re speaking with is no more than a second or third generation American.
*11* Which is why even the whitest announcers on Sports Center pronounce “Chile” like they were born there.
*12* Actually, what they’ll do is ask her to pronounce her name again, and when she says it for them, they will smile a little bit, and then whistle a little tune to themselves. This kept happening while we were there, and so we finally asked Pete, our team leader, why this kept happening. He smiled, and said that a few years ago, the yogurt company Dannette ran a very popular line of commercials, and the jingle that everyone sang to themselves was for that brand. This might discourage a lesser woman, but Donnette is just happy that at least people there shouldn’t have trouble remembering her name.