Please welcome today’s guest writer, Alyssa (Katerberg) Kraker. Alyssa graduated from Calvin in 2015 with a degree in English Education and a minor in Classical Studies, neither of which are directly related to her current role in banking. She lives in Kentwood with her husband Matt. When she’s not enjoying a nap before bed, you can find her playing video games, making a mess in the kitchen, or reading a book.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Maybe it’s the language enthusiast in me that studied Spanish, Latin, and French at different times. Maybe it’s because the name I married into (Kraker—pronounced “cracker” like the food) goes horrifically with so many popular first names. Maybe it’s because I’m currently stepping into the wild unknown of parenthood for the first time. But sometimes, I couldn’t disagree more with Juliet. The right name makes all the difference.
Consider, for example, Lord Voldemort. The development of his name is an integral part of who he is as a character. His name is revered and feared so much that no sane witch or wizard dares utter it. Heck, it’s even based on the French for “theft of death,” and if that isn’t a spoiler, I don’t know what is. It would’ve been very different if the Dark Lord had chosen to go by his given name and become “Lord Tom.” It just makes sense that a power-hungry villain would choose a dramatic, purposeful name.
And it’s not just villains whose names reflect deep personal development and meaning. After encounters with God, Sarai became Sarah, Jacob became Israel, and Saul became Paul. Their lives were so altered by a single experience that they changed their names to reflect an entirely new trajectory in life. It can be the same with marriage or divorce, adoption, gender transition: choosing a name can be a claim to a family and an entire identity. The ability to claim an otherwise unrealized identity—that is an incredible power.
But then there’s the flip side in losing part of an identity in changing names. For me, one of the most emotionally difficult things about marriage was taking my husband’s last name. As someone who grew up with a common first name (there were five Alyssas in my graduating class of 209, not to mention the Melissas, Marissas, Karissas…), I took comfort in having a less-common last name. Even during my time at Calvin there were very few others who shared it—my brother and a professor in the History department were, I believe, the only ones while I attended. And while changing my name after marrying was something I was incredibly excited to do and I love sharing a whole new family identity, I didn’t realize how much I would also grieve the change. A piece of my identity shifted in an a huge way, and the world went on with barely a hiccup. I didn’t realize there could be so much loss over something as seemingly simple as a name.
As I think about my hopes and dreams for my own baby, I’ve spent hours agonizing over finding the perfect name. There is so much unfulfilled potential in choosing a name for a new, unknown being! I hope the name we pick will be the right mix of unique and meaningful. I hope we’re able to pick a name that doesn’t unintentionally have a nickname that becomes the butt end of playground jokes (no, we will not be naming any future daughters “Polly Wanda”). I hope we still love the name after twenty years. I hope my child thrives in their identity and embraces their name to its fullest possibility.
But most of all, I hope that my child makes their name their own. After all, I know that no matter what name we choose, my tiny little one will be uniquely special and loved with no limits. So hey, maybe Juliet isn’t all wrong.