I have always liked my name. Nathalie is not a common name, nor is it unfamiliar to most people. This is a balance that gives me a deep sense of rightness. It just fits.
I was named by my father after a song sung by Gilbert Becaud about a Russian tour guide
La place Rouge était vide
Devant moi marchait Nathalie
Il avait un joli nom, mon guide
La place Rouge était blanche
La neige faisait un tapis
Et je suivais par ce froid dimanche
I grew up hearing my name sung by both Becaud and my father. Sunday mornings, the record player crooned my name. My father liked to sing ahead of the song by a few bars, so I’d hear him sing it first. I liked that, too.
When Ted and I browsed the baby books, our criteria were similar. We wanted names that were not unheard of, but also not common. Our sons are named Griffin, Rowan and Gavin. Their middle names honour our fathers and forefathers, but their first names are theirs alone.
One of the criteria that also began to form itself as we chose the names was that we liked names that had concrete references: a thing outside of the name to which the name points. The Griffin is a mythical beast, the Rowan a tree with thick bunches of red berries, and Gavin means “white hawk.”
For Gavin, we claim most birds of prey as his avatar, white hawks being sometimes hard to come by. When we see a hawk, white or not, we name it and our earthbound world is momentarily expanded. And, of course, Gawain and the Green Knight is his incarnation on the page.
For Rowan, the streets of our city are filled with rowan trees which are just now beginning to fruit, and he can see and touch and find shade under a tree that bears his name. In David Wiesner’s The Loathsome Dragon, the hero rescues his sister with the aid of a ship with a magic keel made of rowan wood. It really does make the story more exciting when Rowan can partake of that magic.
When we named Griffin, we did not know that Maurice Sendak had been to the Lillian H. Smith library in Toronto and had been inspired by the griffin guarding its doors. His griffin has appeared in several of his books, books we read regularly in these parts, and we rejoice at the connection. I have collected all of the griffin paraphernalia from the library, including book plates and the griffin brooch, and that, too, gives me a deep sense of happiness. Our Griffin: my son, our library, and one of our favourite illustrators all rolled into one. Griffin himself gets a thrill of recognition whenever he encounters a mention of the mythical beast, as he did just this evening when we were reading Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. I was reading aloud, and he stopped me and asked how it was spelled, and when I said, g-r-i-f-f-i-n, he pumped his fist in celebration.
What is it that he and I celebrate in seeing, hearing, and feeling our boys’ names in other contexts? I think it is a joy at hearing something so deeply personal as a name in a context outside of ourselves, and in feeling ourselves tethered to the world.