Naming Rhett

In my bio, I promised more about our second-in-line-to-the-throne. Baby Dzurisin No. 2 (a.k.a. “Mint Julep”) is due Dec. 31, 2015. More mellow in the womb than his sister, who wriggled nearly nonstop, Mint Julep shares her cute little ultrasound profile. He already exerts pretty profound pressure on me to be tougher and stronger than I’ve ever had to be before (hello, pelvic pain!). Other than that, I don’t know much about him, but how eager I am to learn more!

One more thing: His actual name is Rhett Louis.

An avowed name nerd (and regular reader of the column of the same name), I’ve scrawled little lists of baby names on Post-It notes ever since the Oilman and I started dating. I love words, of which names are the primary sort, and I take seriously the responsibility of naming.

As Stratford Caldecott writes in his sterling book “Beauty in the Word,” which I never tire of recommending, “It is not simply that the mastery of words requires an act of remembering sufficient to associate each word with a particular thing (naming), or to recall the way individual words build into statements and questions. Certainly that is true. But there is a more profound sense in which to fill a word with meaning is an act of remembering the being of the thing itself.”

To fill a particular name with the meaning of “daughter” or “son” is a very serious business indeed. A name recalls the person of the child as little else does.

With a distinctive but difficult-to-pronounce last name like ours, first names have to be fairly short and sweet, as well as easy to spell. Beyond that, I like names to have religious and linguistic significance.

Stella Jane’s name came easily, and, no, she was not named for the beer, the character on How I Met Your Mother or Stella Luna. She was named for Our Lady, Star of the Sea (Stella Maris), and for Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. We both loved both names and we both love both saints.

Rhett Louis’ name came … not so easily. The Oilman and I were not on the same page on boys’ names at all. I liked “Walter,” “Frederick” and “Sebastian.” He liked “Easton,” “Miles” and “Gunner.” “Saints’ names, please!” I’d plead, to which he’d reply that his No. 1 criterion for a name is that he must like it (which I suppose is as good a criterion as any) and that no name was a saint’s name until its bearer became a saint (which I suppose is technically true, but doesn’t it just seem as though it was easier for Peter, James and John to become saints precisely because their names were Peter, James and John than, say, it was for Hilarius or Olav the Fat? And, anyway, enlisting the prayers of a particular saint surely can’t hurt the cause for our children’s sanctity!).

We briefly landed on “Leo” or “Theo” — we liked the chipper vowel sound at the end of those names — but ultimately fretted they’re trending upward too quickly (as has happened with Stella, although we still love it anyway!).

One day, I was following rabbit trails on my beloved Nameberry. “If you like Walter, then you’ll also like …” “If you like Henry, then you’ll also like …” “If you like Hugo, then you’ll also like …” That sort of thing.

I was mindlessly reading lists of names aloud to the Oilman, one of which was “Brett.” He misheard me.

“I like Rhett,” he said.

“I said Brett.”

“Oh. I like Rhett.”

I liked it, too, in spite of (perhaps because of?) its association with that cad of cads, Rhett Butler. No Saint Rhett that I knew of, though, so I was inclined to ignore the tug of attraction. Just for fun, I looked it up in the Catholic Baby Name Book, even though I’m still mildly miffed by that supposedly comprehensive book because it doesn’t include “Stella.” (Maybe I can persuade Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur to issue a second, revised edition?!)

Wouldn’t you know it? Saint Rheticus was a bishop in the fourth century who fought against the heresy of Donatism, the idea that the sacraments are efficacious only when those who administer them are holy. (Whew! Thank goodness that’s not true!) Rhett, the book assured me, derives from “Rheticus.” (Some websites say it derives from an English surname — Rhettman — but I’m ignoring them.)

So, just as I’d been praying to Saint Walter of Pontoise and Saint Frederick and Saint Sebastian, I began to pray to Saint Rheticus. (I should add that, at the time, we didn’t know whether Mint Julep was a boy or a girl, but we both instinctively thought he was he. And, anyway, we already had a girl’s name selected.)

“Whichever of you wants this baby, won’t you please make it obvious?” I’d ask.

The day of our anatomy ultrasound, when our suspicion was confirmed, we both looked at him moving coolly on the screen and, when we conferred in the car, we knew he was Rhett. It just sounded so … cool.

His middle name did come easily, although I’m not sure why. It’s for Saint Louis de Montfort, of course, although I love the kingly Saint Louis, too.

So, if his names and patrons are any indication, he’ll be our little well-advised, renowned warrior. We can’t wait to meet him!


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