Notes on the Naming of a Daughter: A Mini-Manifesto on Myth

by Joshua MacIvor-Andersen April 19, 2014

Our little girl was born at home, “from water to water,” as my wife says, safe and sound and all systems go.

Weeks later we faced blank lines on a birth certificate, which meant we had to end a decade-long conversation on girl names. Four simple syllables have never given us more trouble.

There were, of course, those colossal six in our last name—that gangly hyphen, the extra capitalized I—but this felt different. Even more loaded. This, after all, is a little girl entering a world that still tilts heavily towards injustice, inequality, and ambivalence  against her sex, a little girl who will soon have to navigate a world of Disney and MTV and, oh, I don’t know, India and Ohio and basically everywhere.

We felt burdened to equip her with a name that overlapped our desires for her with a kind of tool belt for the upcoming melee.

So, suddenly—permanently?—she is Aegis Noel. And she’s holistically rad.

We started with the current meaning of aegis, which is protection and covering and shield and which evokes for us something wonderfully maternal, along the lines of a hen gathering her chicks to her body with a wing, but a stalwart and strong wing. Spiny and stiff. We picture a pretty badass hen.

This same imagery has been coopted by the United States Navy for their integrated weapons system, Aegis, which is admittedly a little weird, but perhaps our wishes for our daughter aren’t that dissimilar to those of the Department of Defense—strong shields to repel real enemies, be they ballistic missiles or a society that still marginalizes, markets, and preys upon women.

But then, as words sometimes do, aegis arcs back etymologically to myth. Greek myth. Ancient, good old-fashioned Zeus myth, the god-king whose ferocious shield—emblazoned with the severed head of Medusa, frequently loaned to his daughter Athena (or the other way around)—was famously known as the Aegis.

This has some of our family a little nervous, as the original word anchor dips into some not-so-Evangelicalicious waters.

We approach myth advisedly, though, and resist the current trend that makes it synonymous with anything false or fabricated or that old notion that it is an anathema to people of faith.

Instead, we see myth as deeply felt narratives that help us make sense of our contemporary world—our gods and heroes and villains. Myth is filled with ancient stories that speak to our current lives, and we believe all of it can be valuable, even if it didn’t originate in the Judeo-Christian context of our family’s culture. Here we look to Paul and Tolkien and Lewis as examples of good thinkers anxious to repurpose old stories, draw from ancient poetry, and weave disparate mythological threads into a single tapestry of truth.

We also cling to the beautiful fluidity of language, the way it is ever evolving, developing and flowing into new meanings from the old, the way a ship grows organically beneath the water from one port to another, gathering new life, new heft, a cosmos of organisms clinging to the original hull—with each journey becoming something altogether new.

And this anchoring in myth does some important things in regards to Aegis’s name and our desire for this little girl. Most importantly, it connects the idea of shield intimately to the divine. It is no longer a generic protection, but one that extends at arm’s reach from a god (some versions even have the Aegis as a breastplate or cloak), and, at the same time, it is both ferocious and feminine.

Never mind that the word most likely meant simply goat skin cloak or shield. Zeus grabbed the nomenclature and wielded that sucker like an angry mountain-top god.

This, then, is the exact point where we needed to merge mythologies in order to get the divine part right. Which brings us to Noel, the Christ myth, the nativity myth, the myth that turns all other god myths on their heads by housing the divine in human flesh—vulnerable, disenfranchised human flesh—the myth that reveals a boy-god growing into a man who says: “What you have done for the least of these you have done for me.”  Suddenly, the imagery of divine shield takes on the rich significance we were originally after: the aegis of a carpenter king and his upside down kingdom filled with misfits and miscreants and outsiders, much like the monsters of ancient myth.

We have no greater desire for our daughter than she seek to be a covering for the “least of these,” which is where we’ve always known God to be most manifest.

It’s funny. We lingered over water names for her middle, living as we do on the shores of Lake Superior. There are many wonderful options there, such as the French Rive, which means “from the shore,” or the Finnish Meri, which means “sea,” but none blinked on that bulb we hoped would ignite with the perfect choice. The lights finally came on when we realized we wanted to fuse the aegis with the Christological.

It’s probably true that we think too much about these things.  But we prefer that to thinking too little. At their best, names can be a banner of a parent’s desire for a child, an imbuing of hope, a gift of meaning and intent and an evocation.

We’re excited about Aegis Noel. So far her ferocity is manifest only when she’s hungry, and her covering is most clear in the way our new vision of family is galvanizing around us, the MacIvor-Andersens of Lake Superior, the little clan with exceedingly long names.

More and more we rest in this. More and more it feels like enough.


Joshua MacIvor-Andersen
Joshua MacIvor-Andersen

Author

Josh MacIvor-Andersen is the author of the memoir On Heights & Hunger, and the editor of Rooted, An Anthology of Arboreal Nonfiction, both forthcoming from Outpost19. His essays, reviews, and reportage have won numerous awards and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and can be found in journals and magazines such as Gulf Coast, Paris Review Daily, Fourth Genre, Arts and Letters and many others.



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