Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Jonas by Any Other Name...

So my single largest creation also happens to be the one I’m proudest of… my five month old son, Jonas. And as any parent knows, the creation process of your firstborn is a lot of work, to say the least. Ask me how it’s going in another 18 years.

My husband and I were married seven years before having Jonas. Now, although this is totally untrue, we like to joke that we waited so long to have him because we couldn’t decide on a name. The process of naming our babe was an arduous one, to say the least, and was one of hardest parts of Jonas’s creation…. You see, sometimes (and especially with a child) there are elements of something you create that you have no control over. In the case of Jonas, we didn’t choose his sex, or what he would look like, or when he’d make his grand entrance, or even whether or not he’d be healthy. But the one thing we did have control over was his name.

You may be asking yourself why I’m talking about names on a design blog. (I’m sure my husband is right there with you.) To me, giving someone a name that will last him the rest of his life was about the most artistic undertaking I have ever had. And that is how I approached it. I took it seriously, and put a lot of thought into it. (So right now you’re saying, “Seriously? And Jonas was the best you could come up with?”) To me, a name says a lot about the respect you have for the thing you’re naming, but also a lot about yourself, your taste and judgment. In addition to having something that could be spelled relatively easy, I wanted our child to have a name that I not only loved enough to hear for the rest of our lives, but one that was unique, and special only to him.

Maybe I have a complex when it comes to names… You see, I married into the Johnson family. I suddenly went from a googlable (yes, I just made up that word, but I’m pretty sure you all know what it means. See how good I am at naming things?) person with a unique last name and two middle names, to one of about one thousand Cheri Johnsons in the US. To boot, after getting married we had so many problems with identity confusion that the IRS did not recognize for three separate years in a row that I had paid my taxes. After trying time and again to clarify my two middle names, my old maiden name, and new last name, I ended up having to again (I did it once when getting married) legally change my name on my social security card to resolve my supposed tax fraud problems. When I went down to the social security office to straighten out the situation, the heartless girl at the desk could not figure out how to enter more than one middle name into her computer screen, so she simply erased one of them with the click of a button, telling me it was impossible (despite the fact that my old SS card in hand showed two middle names)! Since the original four names on my birth certificate, I have legally had four different combinations of names, all for the sake of legal clarification rather than my desire to change my identity. So can you blame me if uniqueness was important to me for whatever we were about to name our baby Johnson?

The catch in this story, of course, is that I was not the only one naming our child. My husband somehow thought he had a 50% claim on names, too. And there is where the complication started. From our first days of marriage, my husband repeated over and over that he wanted a Jonas so he could have a baby with a theme song (referring to Weezer’s My Name is Jonas). It was actually one of his better suggestions, considering he liked extremely common, boring names. (I won’t give you any examples right now, as I’m sure there are many a person I could insult right now with that list!) I vowed I would not have a baby whose name fell on the top 100 Baby Names of the Year list. I had some great suggestions, like “Guinness” and “Cyber” and “Lemon”… hey, if a celebrity can name a baby after a fruit, so can I. (And in all honesty, I have met a Strawberry and a Raspberry, both named that way since birth. Compared to those, Lemon is a sweet name!) Why should only a celebrity be allowed to be creative with a name?

I am a name person. (Have you figured that out by now?) Some people dream of their wedding their whole lives. I was never that girl. I barely remember what my flowers looked like. But- and I will admit this even though it makes me a total dork- I have had a list of baby names since I was in early elementary school. Although the list has evolved (thank God- “Horseshoe” does not have the nice ring to it I once thought it did), the fact that I love names and their meanings and origins is undisputable.

I will spare you the back and forth. Let’s just say we then debated for 7 years of marriage, 9 months and six overdue days of pregnancy, and twelve hours of labor later, when Baby Johnson made his first appearance and we discovered he was a boy. After all of that, I tiredly caved in and gave my husband his choice. I agreed to Jonas, a name in the top ten on the list of 2009 baby names. To even things out, we gave Jonas a unique middle name after a place we had lived and loved for four years: Bronx.

A few days after our little Jonas Bronx Johnson was born, Kurt came out of the bathroom one morning and said, "I just thought of something randomly while I was in the shower... Isn't the original settler of the Bronx named Jonas?" We rushed to the computer to confirm, and sure enough, Jonas Bronck was the first landholder in what's now the Bronx... What's funny, though, is that we not only inadvertently named Jonas after the founder of the Bronx, but when we looked up the founder's name, we found out his middle name was... "Johnson"! Jonas Johnson Bronck. So much for being original.

What was far worse, though, happened when we took Jonas to church for the first time the next week, and one of the men standing next to us overheard our new baby’s name and said, “Oh. That’s so funny. My friends just named their baby Jonas Johnson, too!” Sigh.

We went back home, to a new apartment we had just moved into. During a daily field trip to the mailbox with Jonas, my husband met an older lady with a thick European accent. They started chatting, which I’ve found happens often when you have a cute baby in tow. When she asked his name and my husband said Jonas, she said, “Oh! That’s my son’s name, too! It means John in my country.” John. Could we have a more creative name? Double sigh.

I admit that at first I found myself sometimes embarrassed at telling people my son’s name because I felt bland saying it. I felt like it reflected something lazy or homogenous about me. Like I had made my own little masterpiece, and then didn’t care enough to follow through on the name. But here’s the thing I’m slowly learning… Jonas is not my masterpiece project made out of a recipe or a set of instructions. There is no finite list of ingredients required to make a Jonas.

Jonas is a creative masterpiece that is evolving. And he’s not only mine. He’s a collaboration of both my husband and me and, eventually, the hundreds of other people that will touch his life in the future. It’s a much more fun way of creating something, really. We don’t know what the end product will be, but we can see the evolution already taking form as we add the pieces and watch them grow.

Jonas has grown into his name. And I have grown into it, too. In fact, surprisingly, I now count it to be one of my favorite words. As sure as I am that my baby would be as sweet by any other name, now I can’t imagine calling him anything else but my Jonas.

Now I’m off to listen to some Weezer