If you follow me on Face Book, you know that in the last week we got two new kittens. They came from parishioners at St. John’s, Carlisle, who have a farm and a barn and…. barn cats. This spring, the harvest was prolific: three litters! And so, we had our pick of about a dozen different kittens. (FYI for those who wonder about the proliferation of barn cats, this family spays and neuters every cat they can get their hands on… and… some get away.) We had been waiting and looking for a new kitty or two since our beloved “Little Kitty” died this winter.
Skip over the many postings of “kute kat piktures” on Face Book (sorry, World) and the initial settling-in phase (warming kitty formula, finding a box with a low enough side to serve as a first litter box, using the upstairs guest bathroom as a temporary evening kitty corral), and one is left with the critical issue of… naming the dear things.
The kitties were born in Holy Week. Shouldn’t they have church-y names? like Maundy or Resurrexit… or Biblical names like Samson or Esther? One priest-friend noted that he and his wife have named their many cats through the years after canticles in our prayer book. (He and his wife are very learned people.) In our family, we have not had a great track record with finding creative names for our cats; in the pantheon of Scanlan Cats we had “Whiskers,” “Tigger,” and “Little Kitty.” Other cats in our past have suffered human names, like “Bill,” “Margaret” and “Stafford.”
Among the magazines that we receive in our house is “Journeys,” the quarterly Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine that tells all about the different activities of the Appalachian Trail clubs, community hikes, trail work in progress and new developments in equipment for hiking. The most recent edition (May 2018) celebrated the accomplishment of last year’s thru-hikers, or “2,000 milers.” One of the bits of transformation that happens on the trail is the taking on of a “trail name.” In the article celebrating the 2,000 milers, these folks were recognized by their given, legal names, and also by their trail names. Taking on a trail name is- dare I say it- a spiritual event. A trail name lays claim on a corner of your identity that you may not have even recognized in yourself. It is the revealing of a piece of you that may only become known, first, on the trail, and that is brought out in you as part of the experience of the challenge of walking from Georgia to Maine. Some of the trail names that I’ve learned about and loved are: “Mudslide,” “Dances with Slugs,” “Chaos,” “Peaches,” “Starchild,” “Face-Plant,” and “Restless Cowboy.”
One can choose a trail name for oneself, but the more interesting practice is to “let it come to you.” Sometimes an individual will discern a trail name as they journey along, and other times, a fellow hiker will discern and deliver the name to the person, as a reflection of the individual’s being or essence. Some trail names are aspirational (“World Peace”), some are humorous (“Macaroni King”), some are overtly religious (“Friend of Jesus”) and some are poignant (“Self-seeker”). All of them declare a bit of the identity of the one who carries the name.
When our son was born, we knew his name immediately. In fact, we knew his name 18 months before, when…. his sister was born. Unlike today’s pregnancies, the discovery of an infant’s gender while still in utero was not a common practice back in the dark ages of the mid-1980s. In total, through all 3 of my pregnancies, I only had one ultrasound, and so each of the three times that our babies were born , we were surprised to discover… a girl.. and then a boy… and then a girl. It was a delight. Bill, our middle child, was named for our two fathers, “William and Robert.” There was no naming our child after he’d been around for a while, it was clear to us that we wanted to honor the legacy of two important men in our family’s heritage, and so, “William Robert,” it was. Sometimes I wonder if we live into the names that we’ve been given, striving to give new life to the legacy before us, or how we may feel pressured us develop various parts of our capabilities- My father, an artist. My father-in-law, a scientist, engineer and mathematician. My own name was given to me to honor my father’s sister, a woman whom I barely knew in my childhood. I have no idea if I am doing honor to my aunt Audrey’s legacy. It is a little bit of sadness that I carry around, not having had the opportunity to know my father and his family more closely. (He died when I was a very young child).
And so. What’s in a name?
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet
[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
Does it matter- naming- or not?
What are your “naming stories?”