Thursday, March 22, 2007

IC Column I forgot to put up: De Nomina

More than just a name

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 2/22/07

I'm sitting at my computer hours before my wife and I head to the hospital for the birth of our baby boy. Medicine gives us the miraculous possibility of having at will, which is induced by administering Oxytocin, the hormone normally responsible for the process. I would tell you our son's name, but there is a problem: he doesn't have one yet. In fact, it is somewhat possible he will make his debut nameless, wandering about the world the first few days of his life nameless.

It's a familiar story admittedly. My daughter, Evangeline, (we call her Evvy) was simply known as "Baby Girl" for three days before a certain Agent Smith from the Bureau of Vital Statistics threatened me with imprisonment and a stint in Siberia unless I named the tiny miracle of a human being who captured my heart and continues to capture my time and love. The thing is, my wife and I can't agree on a name.

I see a person's name and the process which goes into deciding it as an incommunicably important event, into which should go much reflection, serious thought, and not a little prayer. Accordingly, I've done all three and more. Guided by what is indubitably the undeniable hand of Providence (kind of like Moses and the burning bush, but with shoes on and not quite as hot), I have been utterly convinced that I should name my son Augustine.


Saint Augustine was born in 354 A.D., the son of a certain well-to-do Roman named Patrick. See the connection? He is without question the single most important theologian and Christian philosopher that the West has ever seen (he beats Saint Thomas Aquinas only because he preceded him).

This goes for Christians and non-Christians alike; Augustine was the great theoretician of free will, grace, sacraments, authority, conversion, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the author of the first ever autobiography and my personal favorite saint. In naming my son Augustine, I would give him the gift of an erudite and unequivocal identity - and a patron by which to model his life.

He would stand out as an intellectual, contemplative Westerner and heir to the legacy of one of the greatest minds this world has ever known. And what is most important, to well-educated people and others familiar with the "Doctor Gratiae's" story, my son would be identifiable as a Catholic Christian, "solo nomine," to modify a Protestant theological principle.

This brings me to names in general.

When you name something, as Aristotle observed so long ago, you "say what it is." A name is a kind of definition whereby you state the essence of the thing named. In naming, you give someone an ideal to live up to, an identity, sometimes a patron, and a way of presenting himself to and being known by the world. Naming my son Augustine is like passing on the greatest things about Saint Augustine to him. And who knows how he might even improve on Saint Augustine's own work.

G.K. Chesterton observed, "The fascination of children lies in this: that with each of them all things are remade, and the universe is put again upon its trial. As we walk the streets and see below us those delightful bulbous heads, three times too big for the body, which mark these human mushrooms, we ought always primarily to remember that within every one of these heads there is a new universe, as new as it was on the seventh day of creation. In each of those orbs there is a new system of starts, new grass, new cities, as new sea."

In children, infinite possibilities exist, and it is the parents' task to nurture the efflorescence of these potentials in an appropriate and virtuous way within the context of unconditional love. After all, as John Paul II remarked that the family is the only institution on earth in which a person is loved for who he is (which, I would add, is revealed by his name) rather than for what he does.

One can see then, the name Augustine is important to me. While celebrities (even those from the great Hoth-like city of Toledo) name their children some awful things such as Suri, I would hope some of us choose our children's names for a purpose, not solely based on the name's popularity or sound but primarily and ultimately based on reason.
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