What’s in a name?

I guess I gave my kids freakball names. With both of them, especially when I dress them in neutral clothing, people often say, “Is that a girl name or a boy name?” (not as much with Silas now that he is so clearly a boy, but when he was an infant) I found this a bit odd–although I had previously only known one Silas, it is a Biblical name, and not a terribly obscure one. As it turns out, Silas was one of the fastest-rising names of 2010, and has continued to grow in popularity.

So, here’s the story on their names:

Silas Anansi

Story: Silas is just a name I’ve always liked. The one Silas I knew before was a guy I sort of grew up with. He was a lot older than me–a teenager when I was a little kid–but he was always very kind to me. Also, let’s be honest, totally cute. I didn’t name my Silas after him, but I knew the name and had positive associations with it. JC insisted that it was a weird name (this from a guy who thought “Habbakuk” would be a nice name). One night, in frustration, I said, “Well, it’s not like I’m proposing to name him ‘Anansi’ or something.”

JC got this euphoric expression on his face. “Silas…Anansi. Oh, that’s good.”

So that’s how Silas got his name. Anansi is a trickster character from west Africa. He’s sometimes a spider and sometimes a man. Unlike many tricksters, he does occasionally get his comeuppance, which I thought was probably a good thing. That said, it’s still a bad idea to name your kid for someone who is known for getting in trouble…I suggested to JC that we should name our next child “Obedience.” 🙂

When I was pregnant with Silas, a lot of older men at my church–and when I say “older,” I don’t mean my parents’ age. I mean my grandparents’ age–asked me if the pregnancy was planned. I was sort of baffled by this question. It seemed unusually personal, especially from people I didn’t know very well. Silas’ name has two meanings (or rather, two speculated origins). Maybe it’s the Greek form of the Latin “Silvanus,” meaning “of the forest.” This is appropriate for where we live. Alternatively, it might be the Greek for the Aramaic “Seila,” rendered elsewhere in the Bible as “Saul.” “Seila” means “asked for.” Given how many people wanted to know…yes, he was “asked for.”

Unexpected/unwanted resonance: Well, there’s Silas Marner, of course, which is about as maudlin a piece of literature as there ever was. I’m not a fan, and people sometimes ask me if this was the reason we picked that name. No. No it is not. And then there’s apparently a character on the TV show Weeds who is called Silas (which explains the recent spike in the name’s popularity). I think Weeds is pretty stupidly written. I did not name my kid after the kid on that show.

Petra Eadaion


Petra’s godparents are named Peter and Bethany Joy. Petra is the feminine form of Peter, and Eadaion is an Old German name meaning “joyful friendship.” So I thought that was rather lovely. It’s a bit of chiasmus, too. Peter/Petra means “rock” as in “upon this rock I will build my church.” Bethany is the one, though, who I think of as solid. She’s someone I always can count on. My favorite quality of Peter’s is his deep and exuberant joy. So both of her names are for both of them.

My grandfather was a world traveler. During his seventy-seven years, he visited roughly ninety countries. When I visited him for the last time before he died, I asked him to tell me the most beautiful place he had been. He said it was hard to pick just one, but Petra, the stone city in Jordan was probably it. He had a big orange cat named Petra, for the city. So this is a secondary layer for her name.

Unexpected/unwanted resonance: We went to visit some friends, and just as we walked in the door, Petra started freaking out. “What’s wrong?” I said.

“She’s mad that you named her after a crappy ’80s Christian rock band,” said our friend.



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  1. Christopher
    November 1, 2012

    Eadaion is Old German? Interesting. In my mind, at least, it looked like Ancient Greek. Not that I’d ever bothered to look it up.

    I really wanted to name our next child “Return Christopher”. You know, after the Ohio governor Return Jonathan Meigs.

    To answer your next question, “How does one get a name like Return Jonathan Meigs?”: Simple. The usual way – have a father named “Return Jonathan Meigs”.

    • November 1, 2012

      Old German like “Aethelred” old.

      I like that Return Jonathan Meigs. JC knew a local politician named “Happy Pancake,” which I’ve always liked.

  2. […] this relationship will lead, but I hope it is as rich as Silas’ with Myers and Laura. She is named for them. We hope that she will grow into a faith as strong as Bethany’s and as joyful and inquisitive […]

  3. […] my grandma traveled extensively, up until the last couple of years of his life. Petra is (in part) named for his deathbed memory of the stunning glory of that ancient stone city. He always sent us gifts […]

  4. […] was left speechless. I haven’t told Petra the story of how she got her name, because I figured not-quite-two was too little to understand it. There’s etymology and […]

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