Ever since Adam and Eve, humans seem compelled to name things—the earth’s flora and fauna, subatomic particles, celestial phenomena, cloud formations and winds, the vagaries of the weather, and our own inner weathers and workings.

         Explorers and scientists label geographic places and landforms, the matter and minutiae and mechanics of the heavens and the earth. Even in Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, humans paused to bestow place names: Badwater Basin, Furnace Creek, Hell’s Gate.

         The only opportunity most people have to name something is when they decide what to call their children. It’s a momentous choice, conferring the name a being will bear throughout a lifetime. Dick and Ruth turned to song, sound, and heritage when naming their children. Jenny, their first-born, was named after a favorite Leadbelly song, “Sweet Jenny Lee.” They liked the sound of the names Anna and Rachel for their next child. They bestowed the middle name Alexander on Joe, after Ruth’s paternal grandfather.

Anne-Marie Erickson

Featured image: Adam and Eve, Albrecht Durer, 1504. The Art Institute of Chicago

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