September 13, 2007

So I Named My Son After An Axe Murderer

maud_newton_dadpic.jpgEvery time I start to wonder why my mom stayed with my father when they were so ferociously ill-matched, I look at the photo at the top of this post, of her own dad embracing her as a baby.

He looks so grim, so shrunken and defeated, and her forlorn wave matches the sentiment. It’s as though they know they’re going to part for a very long time.

Reading through literary blogger Maud Newton's Weekend Ancestry posts is thrilling, disturbing, and feels a little creepy-invasive, and I yet can't seem to stop. She pieces together stories of her family back to the various greats and great-greats, one faded photograph, postcard, letter, and uncomfortable recollection at a time. It's the kind of family history few people grasp--a real sense of their ancestors as people, not just the wrinkly, huggy ones at Thanksgiving, or the mute, unsmiling faces in a scrapbook.

Newton reveals tales of serial philandering, abuse, passion, reconciliation, and struggle that's probably truer to most people's own histories than they know. the difference between family history and family secrets.

I waded into Newton's history at the same time I'd been combing through our own extensive geneaology records for potential baby names [thanks, generations of Mormon ancestors!] Before we found out kid2.0 is a girl, I fell hard for a name I'd never spotted before, Ruffin, my great grandmother's father. And when I mentioned it to my mom, the first thing she says is, "Ooh, he's the bad one," which just turned out to mean he was the 1880's, country road womanizer who knocked up the young woman he then married. [No bastards out of Carolina here--in that line, anyway.]

Anyway, I realized how little sense I had of my own family's history, lives and personalities, and how little I knew about these people I was considering naming my own kid after. They were almost literally nothing more than a name list, which I was surfing through for good sounds, that's about it. I knew more about an online stranger's ancestors, in fact, I might as well be combing other peoples' genealogies for names.

Zone, now there's an awesome name. Zone Johnston. Of course, as Maud puts it, Zone had a "predilection for dragging the family to construction sites and then abandoning them to shack up with someone new." We'll put Zone in the "hmm, maybe" column, under Ruffin.

Happy weekend from the banished father [maudnewton]


We did exactly the same thing for ThisKid's middle name (ThisWife had already picked out the first name, with advice and consent from ThisGuy). We searched through a family history that my uncle had put together based on long conversations with (much) older relatives.

The name we liked best was connected to a great great aunt who, according to my uncle's research had been a "dancer" in a "pub." (I can't remember if the quotes were in the original, but we make sure they are present when we tell the story.) Theoretically, a "dancer" in a "pub" could be perfectly innocent. But this was in Weimar Germany, and according to my memory of Cabaret, it probably wasn't.

So is Miss December 1987 India back in the running?

[yeah, "ooh the bad one!" is our new criteria -ed.]

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