A guy who works in a hospital tells me stories. He is a nurse. A lot of babies are born who don’t live a day, he says, but of course their parents name them, and I keep a list. There was a woman who named her son Once. He lived an hour. There was a boy named Chance and a boy named Jesus and a girl named Wonderful. We had a stillborn baby the parents named Almost. One man named his daughter Lost. Some people name their children after trees and birds and such, Ash and Pine and Hawk and Wren. We have had several Rivers and one Ocean. A lot of names have something to do with music, like Harmony and Melody, and a lot of them have to do with light and color and natural phenomena like rainbows and sunshine and summer. A lot of the babies don’t get any names at all because they die so fast and the mother is exhausted and despairing and we don’t press the matter. Those are the babies who are named A and B and such in the records. Baby Boy A, Baby Girl B. We name them quietly ourselves though. If you look at their faces long enough their names arrive. Maybe those are the names the babies are really supposed to have. You never know. I think every child born has a name just as every child born has a character and a personality that was never in the world before and never will be again. Me personally I think that when you are formed in your mother’s womb you have a name that is part of every cell in your body. You are your name. Your name isn’t a word or even a sound, it’s the you of you. I am not being articulate but you know what I mean. You stare at a baby, you know, a child who has been dead for half an hour, a child who was alive when she came out of her mother, and who she was, maybe who she is, her name appears in your mind. A friend of mine says you hear the name in your heart like the ringing of a bell but that seems too poetic and fanciful to me for what really happens, which is that somehow after a while you just somehow know her name. I go write it down so it doesn’t get lost.
Brian Doyle is the editor of this magazine. His book Thirsty for the Joy, a collection of “proems & voices,” will be published in February by One Day Hill Publishers in Melbourne, Australia (onedayhill.com.au).