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the memories remain

S’s sister recently sent us a New Yorker article that chronicled one French/American couple’s travails in choosing a name for their son. Charmingly witty, humorous, and filled with all sorts of quirky name trivia, the article also hit a nerve, for despite the fact that S had compiled a list of girl names she liked long before she was even pregnant with our firstborn (who turned out to be a boy), we had a hard time choosing a name for Junebug.

As with Munchkin, we wanted to name our daughter after close relatives who had passed. We had struggled with Munchkin’s name also, but at least we were quick to narrow down the search to two initials – one in honor of D’s maternal grandfather and the other in honor of S’s paternal grandfather. With Junebug, even this simple step became complicated. Both of S’s grandmothers had passed not long ago. D’s grandmother, who died of cancer in April, lived longer than her doctor had expected, but not long enough to hold her second great-granddaughter, who was born a few months later.

And on top of that, there was a variation on one of the names S had written down long ago – when our grandmothers were still alive – that she still liked and could imagine herself calling across the playground or writing on school admission paperwork. In fact, the more she thought about it, the harder it became for S to think of the little girl kicking inside her as anything else. So the name stuck, and once D’s grandma passed, we decided to pair it with a middle name that honored her remarkable life.

Once we settled on the name that would adorn Junebug’s birth certificate, it took S only a few minutes to pick a Hebrew name for our daughter that would reflect the memories of S’s grandmothers. In keeping with tradition, S wanted to celebrate Junebug’s arrival with a baby-naming ceremony at her parents’ synagogue, which she did shortly after D returned to Rwanda.

In naming our children after our grandparents, we wanted to do more than just honor their memory; we hoped also that in some small way our children would inherit their ancestors’ best qualities, so that when they grow up we may glimpse the relatives we lost but still hold dear. In Junebug’s case, we hope not only that she inherits her great-grandmothers’ joie de vivre, personal strength, and adventurous spirit, but also that she brings our families ever closer together, like our grandmothers did.

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