How I Named My Baby: Larsen Jean
Below, we talk with Justin about how he and Mark named their baby girl.
Tell me Larsen’s name story!
When I was in sixth grade, I did a history project where I interviewed my grandfather, my Pop-Pop, who was a Prisoner of War in WWII. He was in the Air Force and jumped on D-Day, and he told me the full story from how he got captured to how he survived.
He mentioned a lot of guys within the story, but there was only one that he mentioned by name. This was someone he jumped out of the plane with — they found each other on the beaches of Normandy and hid. His friend said he was going to go find help and never returned. His name was Larsen.
In 2015, I moved a bunch of stuff from my parents’ house, and I found the old cassette of my interview. I heard my Pop-Pop say Larsen on the tape and was like, “I think that’s my daughter’s name.” Something just struck me about it! I always wanted a gender-neutral name and immediately knew that was it.
Later I met Mark, and when we got married, we started talking about kids’ names. I told him this story and he immediately lit up. I spoke to my aunt about it, and she said, “Yes, Larsen. That was one of Pop-Pop’s best friends in the war.” He was a cowboy — she showed me a picture.
When my Pop-Pop returned from being a POW he married my Mom-Mom, whose name was Jean. We put the names together and made Larsen Jean.
We were excited about it because it was a name we hadn’t really heard before, especially used for a girl. We think it’s cool and powerful. The thought of having those three guardian angels — Larsen, my Mom-Mom, and Pop-Pop — watching over her is really special.
Would you have used Larsen for a son?
What names did you like when you were younger?
I’ve always wanted to be a father since I was a little kid. We have something hanging in her nursery — it’s a finger painting I made when I was young of the moon and stars. On the back it says, “What do you wish upon a star,” and I said, “I hope that one day I’m a great daddy.” I was seven!
Being gay, there were a lot of times when you were told you wouldn’t be able to have a family. But I never let that take control. I always said I was going to be a dad — I just didn’t know how!
How do you feel about your name and how did that influence Larsen’s name?
It’s funny — growing up, I didn’t know any other Justins! I always wanted to be an Anthony or a Michael. Then in the ‘90s Justin Timberlake became big and all of a sudden there were a ton of Justins. Then I wished I had a more unique name.
Tell me about your musical, The Ladies Man.
I wrote a pop rock musical based on growing up gay in an Italian Catholic family in New Jersey in the ’80s, ‘90s, and into the 2000s. It is semi-autobiographical, about shame and trauma that a religion and family can place upon someone.
I really wanted to write about this journey because so many kids are dying or experiencing extreme trauma and shame in their adult lives. It’s the first project I’ve written that isn’t just my songs. I’m going to get this thing made! I just need the money.
I wish we talked more about that shame and how it affects you as an adult. Each generation helps each other. The older generation of gay men set it up for us to have a child and get married. They fought for those rights. This generation is helping to heal the wounds of the next one. We all do our part.
How did you choose the names for your characters?
When writing it, I had to come up with all the character names. Because it’s set in that time period, their names are all things like Courtney, Tommy, and Holly. Super common names! I couldn’t get too creative because everyone had those names back then.
My lead character is named Julian. Julian starts with a J and ends with an N like Justin, which is how I chose it. My brother’s name is Gregory — we call him Greg — and I named one of the brothers in the show Craig. I grew up with a Craig who died when we were in high school, so that name is also in there to honor him.
I got some of the names from girls and guys I went to high school with. There’s some shade thrown in there too, for some of the villainous characters!
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
In our neighborhood there’s a Luna and a Layla. I’ve heard Olivia. A lot of my friends have slightly older kids with names like Emma and Sophia and Chloe.
We have friends who just had a daughter named Rafa. Another friend named their son Zev. I haven’t seen too many people “on trend” lately.
Did you share Larsen’s name before she was born?
No — we told my aunt and a couple of really close friends. We didn’t want to hear “That’s a boy name!” from people, especially from older people or our elders. None of that microaggression crap.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
The way Larsen’s name (and our future child’s name) came to us. It was very “scent in the wind”. It came as a whisper from my 11-year-old self, from my Pop-Pop who passed in 2001. The whole thing was very otherworldly.
A name is important. It’s for life, and I love that Larsen will be able to say it came from a special place.
How does Larsen’s name represent your family identity?
We’re learning about the importance of visibility for LGBTQ families. We didn’t have anything like that to look up to when we were kids, and it didn’t seem like a possibility. Gay marriage became legal not so long ago, and the possibility of gay families have children is really happening now, in this generation.
You feel almost like you’re trailblazing. We’ve already had young people reach out on social media saying, “You give me hope for my future.” Our journey and our family being unique and new and something that many people haven’t seen before is just like Larsen’s name, which is new to many people.
Do you feel pressure as a trailblazer?
More responsibility. It’s really important, and that’s what Pride is — living your life out loud. As actors, we were told by representatives when we were younger not to go to gay bars, not to post photos, not to be out — it would mess up our chances of getting roles.
You get PTSD about it — whether it’s taking your partner’s hand in public or posting a photo online of you two hugging or kissing. To get past that shame and proudly post your family is important because visibility is everything for change.
How would you describe your style beyond baby names?
Style is very important to me. I’m picky about everything, including the aesthetic of my Instagram page! I’m an artist, so our home is very specifically mapped out and decorated thoughtfully. I’m very sentimental, so we have a lot of things from the past that I’ve made art pieces out of.
Holiday decorating was such a big thing for me growing up, so even our Christmas and Halloween decorations. Searching online, I found some Halloween decorations that I remembered from when I was a kid.
How did you decorate Larsen’s nursery?
We first thought about color. We knew we wanted something more gender-neutral, so we went with a light shade of green, almost sage. The accent color is a rusty peach. The crib is vintage style with white metal bars.
I also started looking for old art pieces and vintage drawings from children’s books. I found this one German artist, Germaine Bouret, whose drawings are just amazing. I found one that is two boys with a smaller girl. For some reason there’s an Italian flag and a British flag flying in the background, and a little black dog that looks exactly like our dog Dio G. I was like, “Oh my god, this is our family!”
Did you pass down anything special to Larsen?
There’s an old wooden cradle that my aunt had in her attic that everyone in my family slept in when they were babies for generations. She gave it to us, so Larsen is sleeping in that right now before she moves to her crib. We’ll pass it along to the next baby in the family!
What’s your favorite gift that you received for Larsen?
My two girlfriends who were groomsmaids at our wedding threw a shower at our house and decorated beautifully. They had cakes and food and all of my family was here. It was gorgeous and a gift like no other.
Justin's (and Larsen's) Favorite Things
Solly Baby Wrap
They’re so soft and beautiful. It’s what we used to take her home. She was two days old flying from Arizona to New Jersey and we were scared to death!
It’s basically a Keurig for baby formula. It’s a lifesaver because that's all she drinks.
Baby Bjorn Bouncer
While I’m teaching or working on my writing, I can bounce her with my foot.