The Origins of Owen

The Origins of Owen

By Leslie McLean

I conceived Owen through donor insemination on a gorgeous early February night of great tenderness.  His birthday would have been in October.

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.

About the Author



Leslie McLean has loved words and names since she was a toddler. A teacher of high school English and Creative Writing in Northern California, she is known on Nameberry as lesliemarion. She is in the process of creating a blog of her writing about names and myriad other fascinations which will be listed here soon.