Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's in a Name?

As the kids and I strolled through the cemetery yesterday, I was struck more than ever by the tradition of names in our family. As I read the headstone of my great-great-grandparents on my grandfather's side, and as I gazed at my great-grandparents' and grandparents' markers, the tradition of the names "Mae" and "Edwards" came to me more forcefully than ever.

"Mae," an English name, is a derivation of "May," named for the month and also is a common name for the hawthorn flower. "Mae" was the middle name, later adopted as the first name, of my great-great grandmother and my maternal grandmother (whose first names were Sally and Blossom, respectively; who can blame them for changing to "Mae"?), and was the middle name for my maternal great-grandmother, Lela. (What a card she was!) "Mae" is also my mother's middle name, as well as mine and E's as well. My mother's cousin gave "Mae" as the middle name of his daughter (who is younger than E). So this simple name of (arguably) the most beautiful month of the year traces its way through at least six generations of women in our family. As I do my genealogical research this summer, we'll see if it reaches even further back.

Another name that was prominent yesterday in our family plots was "Edward," an English name meaning "happy guardian" or "favored son." We discovered the first name "Edward" on my great-great grandfather's tomb yesterday (and my research has revealed it was his father's first name as well), and it was also the name of my mother's great uncle, nicknamed "Uncle Ebby." "Edward" is my grandfather's and my uncle's middle name, and we gave it as a middle name our youngest son, B, in honor of my grandfather. (B was born on Pearl Harbor Day where my grandfather played a key role.) "Edward" is a common name, yes, far more common than "Mae," but it's indicative of our family's British heritage and history.

So what's in a name? Memory, history, association, tradition, and love of family. Walking through a beautiful cemetery on a sunny afternoon with one's children and sharing memories of those who have gone before. Laughing over a great-grandmother's signature phrase and retelling a grandfather's corny jokes to a new (and appreciative) audience. The continuation of family story and history from one generation to the next, a precious thing indeed. And it all begins with a name.

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