The Importance of the Right Name

A neighbor stopped by to give me the news that her son’s girlfriend is in labor with her first grandchild. She said the family already knows it’s a boy and the parents have decided to call their son, Aiden, which is a great name. I’m excited for their little bundle of joy to arrive just in time for Thanksgiving.

When I was pregnant, I didn’t want to know the sex of either of my children and like many mothers, I agonized over the perfect name until their births. I chose four names each time and in the case of my daughter, I gazed upon her little, red face, blonde hair, and blue eyes and decided on a beautiful name that popped into my head–much to my husband’s surprise. A son was to be named after his father, becoming the fifth boy carrying on the family name. When my dark-haired, blue-eyed son was born, my then husband and I chose a name we both liked, and ended the family dynasty–much to his parent’s dismay.

My novel, A Decent Woman, set in 1900 Puerto Rico, begins with a birth during a hurricane; a common occurrence in the islands with hurricane season lasting from June to November each year. The presiding midwife is my protagonist, Afro-Cuban-born, Ana Belen, a former slave who lives and works in Playa de Ponce, Puerto Rico. As is traditional in her Yoruba tribe, she gives the child a destiny name. Here is an excerpt from Chapter One:

“When a violent pain wracked her body, Serafina took a seething inhalation and pushed. Ana’s skin tingled with anticipation as it did with every birth. “I see your baby’s head!” Ana snatched a clean, white cloth from the bedside table and dipped two fingers into the can of lard. Ana massaged and coaxed the labia with her index finger until the baby’s head crowned. “Push, Serafina!” Ana’s sense of urgency and excitement came through, and then she saw the membrane covering the baby’s face and neck. Ana gasped softly–it was a caul, a valuable talisman for sea captains and sailors who were convinced the veil would protect them from death by drowning. She’d heard of special children born with a caul, but had never seen one before. Gently removing the membrane over the baby’s face, Ana placed it in the bowl on the floor and delivered the shoulders, allowing the baby’s body to slip out into her experienced hands. When the baby cried, Serafina made the sign of the cross and lay back, shaking from exhaustion. The smells of blood and birthing fluid permeated the small room as Ana placed the crying infant on Serafina’s stomach. She would tell Serafina about the gifts the gods had bestowed on her infant daughter when the time was right.

“I see you, little one,” Ana murmured, clamping and cutting the cord. She took the infant from Serafina and wrapped her in a blanket. “She’s a beautiful baby, Serafina. What’s her name?”

“Lorena,” Serafina breathed before retching over the side of the bed.

Ana kissed the baby’s forehead. “You’ve made quite an entrance, Lorena Martínez. I will bury your placenta, keep your caul safe, and say your name so no one can ever change your orí, your destiny. Like me, your destiny name will be Akanni, because you are the firstborn. Welcome to the world of suffering, my girl.” BOOK COVER SEPT 2014

Welcome to the world, baby Aiden. I’m excited to meet you, little one.

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