Ok, technically it’s Valentine’s Day…but there’s just a bit of enjoyment by using this shortened moniker when your name also happens to be Valerie…
So I’m not actually much for celebrating this seemingly made up for Hallmark coffers “holiday”…but I’m all for the celebration of love! And apart from the Love of the Lord there is no greater love than that of a family…and being the perpetual family historian for my own clan has lent a measure of appreciation for our names, their meanings (actual or folkloric), and the line stretching back into our personal, familial, ancestral past.
Given that my birthday is a half week off from Valentine’s Day I’ve always wondered if the proximity of that holiday influenced my parents in their naming of me…hmm?
Valerie means (at least this is the meaning I “remember” & assign to it now) “strong in body and mind; persistent, will succeed”…and that perceived meaning has provided a measure of comfort and perseverance during difficult seasons in my life.
Lynn, my middle name (that I really wish were spelled “Lynne”) means “clear, light, water from a brook”…and since my mother’s name is Elaine, it also seems like a shade/flavor take on her own name…
Stoddard, my maiden name, has at least one folkloric meaning from some of the genealogical books I’ve consulted. In the legendary past this surname apparently applied to the Standard Bearer, and supposed cousin, of William the Conqueror. Stoddard was a time modified distortion of “de la standard”. Some genealogical tomes completely refute that potentially folkloric meaning. The less romantic origin may be that of “stud-herd” as in the keeper of the horses. I’ve often chosen (in the rare times I contemplate the meaning of my birth surname) to consider the “standard bearing” “origin” to be more meaningful, and this especially so being quite informed by my faith and the need to represent Christ, being in a manner of speaking a “standard bearer” for the King of Kings–the True Conqueror.
My husband, Michael, has a name with more spiritual roots, “one who is like God”. It is interesting that when he was born his mother, who was Not a Believer at that time (nor, presumably, was his father) chose to “dedicate him to the Lord”…since she really had no idea of what that might entail nor did she have any sort of plan to raise him in the “fear and admonition of the Lord”. Michael has in many ways lived up to his name in that he makes it a regular practice to submit his human/fleshly side to the Lordship of Jesus and in many ways is thus enabled to embody Christ to his family.
Michael’s middle name, Ellsworth, is also shared by my father, and our firstborn son, Nathaniel. I don’t carry an “Ellsworth” meaning in my back pocket, so at some point I’ll perhaps supplement this post with a collection of some of the “meanings” available online.
When Michael and I were first getting to know each other we ended up having a conversation about our names and in particular middle names. He wanted me to guess his middle name based on the initial “E”. After entertaining several of the “usual suspects” like Edward or Eugene I ultimately said (with the half squint eye that is a Stoddard family inheritance) “it wouldn’t be Ellsworth would it?” Michael was dumbfounded as no one in his entire life had Ever correctly guessed his name. In an interesting twist, it actually turned out that we Both had fathers named “William Ellsworth”.
Tracing the Ellsworth name passage throughout our different lineages has been one of the interesting rabbit trails to indulge in periodically. In fact I was eventually able to discover that Michael’s grandfather also bore the Elsworth middle name, though apparently with only one “l”…it’s is nearly “confirmed” that his great grandfather also carried that same name. I am still actively pursuing that “Ellsworth/Elsworth” line of inquiry to see if it will lead any place interesting…and it would ultimately be interesting if it were possible to discover the origin in both our families…if that is even possible.
Our son, Nathaniel Ellsworth, and his girlfriend (and likely soon-to-be fiancee) have already discussed the passing on of the Ellsworth tradition. They are currently planning to gift “Ellsworth” to the next generation should the Lord decide to grace their expected union with a son…
Here’s the current progression of Ellsworth in both our families:
William Ellsworth Curren
Clarence Elsworth Curren
William Ellsworth Curren
Michael Ellsworth Curren
Nathaniel Ellsworth Curren—future baby Ellsworth Curren, God willing
Valerie Lynn Stoddard Curren
William Ellsworth Stoddard
Elzine Munger Stoddard
William Ellsworth Stoddard
(I wish you could see the above names in the formation in this post creation…it involved indenting each succeeding generation so that Nathaniel and his theoretical future son were the tip of the arrow with all of our successive names the angled cutting edge of the weapon. Given how the Bible refers to children being arrows in the quivers of their father this visual representation seems particularly apropos)…
Psalm 127:4-5 New International Version (NIV)
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their opponents in court.
As you can see, Nathaniel has two grandfathers and two great, great grandfathers named “William Ellsworth”, though obviously with different surnames. On the Curren side, the Ellsworth naming is unbroken while on the Stoddard side it is an every other generation practice…
When we were having children and during the course of giving them names we often would look to “baby books” on the meanings of names to help inform our decision. In fact, prior to Nathaniel’s birth, we had actually “planned” on naming him “Brandon”. As an aside I was almost named “Holly” and our daughter was almost named “Brianna” or “Patience Helanne”. Anyway, Michael recalls that the hospital staff put “Brandon” on the bassinet label after Nathaniel’s birth, but before we had “officially” named him and filled out the required paperwork. In a sadly ironic way we actually were reading baby names on the hospital discharge plastic bag (for carrying home the sitz bath paraphernalia, among other things) when we saw “Nathaniel” and its meaning “Gift of God”…and it fit and stuck…
Brandon, our second son, has a name meaning “beacon on a hill, a sword or a flame”. His middle name, Emmanuel, means “God with us” and was also the middle name of my mother’s father, John Emmanuel Koski.
Josiah, Brandon’s twin brother, our third son has a name meaning “God will heal and protect”. We did not specifically recall that meaning when we named the twins, though we tentatively agreed to call them B & J. We made the final decision over the phone, while I was in the hospital and the twins were both in the NICU following a deliberate premature delivery at 33 1/2 weeks to “get the little guy out before he dies”–to quote the high risk neonatalogist/OB overseeing myself and the twins. Michael was adamant that “we should call the little guy Josiah”. Given the myriad medical and other challenges that ensued (and will likely fill Many Future Postings here) this name’s meaning was both providential and comforting. Josiah carries my maiden name, Stoddard, as his middle name; so even though I am my parents’ only daughter I was still able to pass along the Stoddard name to the next generation.
Our daughter, and last child, is named Clarissa, which, I believe, means “clear, light, a babbling brook” so in a fashion, and more artistically and subtly naming her, to some degree, after my middle name, which follows loosely from my mother’s name’s meaning as well. Clarissa’s middle name, Chantelle means “a stone or a song”. Given my mother’s perpetual love for vocal music and lifelong pursuit of the same this name also obliquely honors her and her life. The “Patience Helanne” possibility saw “Helanne” invented by me as a way to honor both of Clarissa’s grandmothers, Elaine & Anne.
My parents liked to link their initials together, WES & EEK to make WE SEEK. This was reflective of their desire to seek the things of the Lord, a primary focus of their lives.
My paternal grandparents combined their names, Elzine & Vivian into El Viva…which was Latin, I believe, for “the life”. They drew this “El Viva” into the cement pad they installed in the yard of their Northern Michigan Cottage (The Cottage) as the foundation for a river rock stone fireplace that were apparently being constructed near ubiquitously in their neighborhood in that era. Several years ago my youngest brother, Michael, led the efforts to deconstruct the crumbling fireplace and re-purpose its stones into a glorious fire pit that now sees persistent use, unlike the former fireplace that was mostly a surface upon which to lay things. The concrete pad with “El Viva” still survives and is sometimes used to support a picnic table in the summer.
Seeing “El Viva” when visiting The Cottage stirs warm memories and thoughts in my heart. It is a tangible reminder of their love and vitality that continues to live on in the veins and hearts of their natural, and to some degree spiritual, descendants. We still leave my grandfather’s name “E. M. Stoddard” on the rural mailbox label/sign even though he’s been dead nearly 3 decades. There are times when Cottage conversations turn nostalgic and my father can speak of his father in the present tense, as if he were in fact actually still there. In so many ways my grandpa’s essence so permeates The Cottage it can seem like he’s just been there…from the eternal perspective, that our lives are but a vapor, in a sense it is just as if he only just stepped out…
Back to names, and Finally wrapping up today’s posting…Curren means “hero”. This is a meaning that may be frequently reinforced within our family. I often call Michael “my hero” or tell my kids because they are “Currens” they are “heroes”. This can be a reminder as to how to conduct themselves during times of intense stress, pressure, or conflict.
The meaning of names is significant. There are cultures who keep names secret as a way to protect the perceived/presumed power of a person. Names don’t have to either limit or define us, but they seem to, at least to the degree we may be aware of their “meaning”, influence us. There is a bit of mystery here. Is it a part of “self-fulfilling prophecy”, or do names impact how people treat us. Would “Norma” have gone as far if she hadn’t changed to “Marilyn Monroe” or “Marian” has he not turned to “John Wayne”? Hmm…
Here’s a couple of relevant biblical passages (copied from Biblegateway.com):