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.
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on February 5th, 2014 at 12:50 am
This was beautiful, and Owen is just, somehow, the perfect name in this context. It feels right. I’m sorry for your physical loss, but I know you still hold Owen dear to your heart.
on February 5th, 2014 at 1:48 am
Beautiful, Leslie. Thank you for sharing your story.
Love Naomi xo
on February 5th, 2014 at 5:32 am
Thank you for sharing this with us, Leslie. Owen is a lovely name. I wish you all the best xxx
on February 5th, 2014 at 8:16 am
This really touched me, Leslie. We lost our Owen last year. He was 3 and a half years old and I always thought his name was perfect for him. It still remains a wonderful name and I don’t mind at all that so many people have discovered for themselves. I appreciate you sharing your story.
on February 5th, 2014 at 9:33 am
What a rich, honest, and beautifully written essay. Thank you for sharing it, Leslie.
on February 5th, 2014 at 11:15 am
Beautiful and touching story. I am so sorry for your loss. I have always loved the name Owen, and promised myself if I have a son I will call him Owen. Your story has really brought meaning to the name Owen, for me.
on February 5th, 2014 at 8:53 pm
Thank you so much for these kind comments. They really mean a lot to me.
I am staggered by the loss of your Owen at three and a half, MeganLee29. This is something no parent should ever have to suffer, and I am very sorry.
A surprise gift from having this piece appear on nameberry is the beautiful picture Pam found; sharing that Owen-like face with this community feels absolutely wonderful.
on February 5th, 2014 at 10:14 pm
I am so sorry for your loss.
Owen is permanately on my boys-name list, because it was the my beloved grandpa’s middle name. His first name, William, has been used for four cousins and three uncles so far (too many for my liking), but no one has touched Owen yet. In addition to the meaning this name already had for me, your story has added to the meaning.
I wish you happiness and peace.
on February 7th, 2014 at 9:31 pm
With this beautiful expression of the many lives of Owen, he lives within your heart, and now also in mine. We think of ourselves as finite beings, but in fact we are all connected, as within a fine web and your Owen, and Megan lee, your Owen, do live on as love, and as other beloved Owens. I am so sorry for both of your losses of Owen. Yet you have enriched my heart and made this name now more special.
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