The Origins of Owen
We can see him, a bit like Gilbert on Leave it to Beaver, a child version of Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. White blonde, serious, outdoorsy. A rock hound and butterfly lover. A reader. A bit stolid, a little shuffly. My dream child, but then why not? Why envision anything less?
Owen was actually conceived though when I was younger than ten, when I began to read and reread (and reread ) the Anne of Green Gables books. Owen the wonderful writer who comes to marry Leslie, the tragic heroine. The name was shining and I fell in love.
In fact, it was so shining that I locked it away for my child-bearing time and for the next couple of decades contemplated only female names, of which I accumulated hundreds. I had named my male and it was time to name my daughters.At 27, when I had figured I would already have a child but didn’t, I did finally overcome family anxieties and learned to drive.
I named my first vehicle (a white Toyota truck I adored) Owen, fully expecting to be driving my same-named baby around in my truck before long. Years later, I found the list of people I had called as soon as I got my truck; it read like who I would have called if I had had a child. The name not only meant writer to me, it meant freedom.
And then in my late 30’s, the physical conception, which has been hard to own because I did not “show,” I did not have a shower, people did not know. It even took a few years for the name to be sayable, for the pain to not exceed the pleasure: Owen Michael Russell.
It is still a name that only a handful of friends know. Mostly it is something loved ones read in an honest holiday letter and forget in embarrassment and pity.
Though I did not know about Nameberry at the time I was trying to become a mom, I did realize over time how popular Owen was becoming with naming parents, which I did not like. Don’t look for logic here; it is raw emotion only.
Owen is now almost always in the Nameberry popularity cloud and it no longer hurts. Well, not much. I’m glad such a lovely name has garnered such affection, even as I treasonously wonder at times if I should rename him something more fresh, a name for which I have not harbored a longing for close to half a century.
But then I realize I have come full circle. The writer Owen I fell in love with as a little kid is the writer I strive to become. The truck Owen I cherished in my late 20’s is the mobile, adventuresome person I want to become. And the physical Owen – a grain of rice or less, quite briefly – and the metaphysical Owen – for whom we bake a banana-graham cracker cake each autumn – is quite simply our son.
Now that my grief has aged and is more a low lake than a roaring river, I find myself wincing on others’ behalf. I recently wrote a post extolling the virtues of a favorite male name and felt bad for the woman who wrote in saying plaintively that she has been trying to have a son of that name for many years. A well-liked name that has been long saved can feel like a sock in the gut.
It can also (after time, maybe?) feel like a deep private comfort. Nameberry is at any given moment inhabited by women and men in every stage of the naming process: the young who dream of one day having a child, those who simply like names, those who are eagerly trying to have a baby, those who are pregnant, new moms and dads, grandparents and aunts and uncles and friends of kids. And always those who have been trying to have a baby for what feels like forever, those who have lost children, those who will never — on the face of it — have any to lose.
To those people I offer my deep sorrow and my belief – which I know is not enough, not enough — that at some level those who want children have already conceived something beautiful and permanent, if only a shining name, harbored long and gently.