There’s a simple tradition that starts at your moment of birth: your name. Eleven years ago, it was easy to imagine naming my son Trainer after his grandfather H. Potter Trainer. When I looked at my infant son in the hospital, I felt as though I were looking in a mirror, for I could see distinct features of myself, my father, and my grandmother reflected in his wide blue eyes, high temples, and reddish blonde hair. Indeed, when my cousin saw Trainer for the first time at eight weeks, he hooted and said, “Hello, Potter.”
It made sense to name him J. Trainer Thompson. (Another family tradition: give your first born male your maiden name as a surname, although when my husband Joe’s father Jim – the James in our son’s “J” Trainer -- heard of our plan to invert his name, his immediate response was “and how’s our little Jimmy doing?”)
Four years later, when we adopted Isabel from Guatemala, her name deserved something different. It seemed ludicrous to saddle this beautiful Mayan baby with inky dark eyes and dark hair that shimmers (“like a halo, mom” said Trainer) with one of my family’s hardscrabble Yankee names that tumble hard from your mouth like nuts from the basket of my family tree: Burnett…Harvey…Sherlock…Coffin. No, she was Isabel Rose, and when we strolled with her as an infant through the streets of the colonial Guatemalan city of Antigua as Easter preparations were underway, the women selling their tapestries on the sidewalks gently asked her name, then cooed, “Isabelita,” Little Isabel. That became her beautiful name, and her own tradition, underscoring the fact that we all bring threads to the fabric of our family, and what a precious gift we received from this infant to inherit the culture of her birth.
Of course, sometimes names can be tortuous. My father (H. Potter Trainer) was a victim of family tradition, named after a grandmother whose maiden name was Potter, and he hated his name growing up. You can imagine how he suffered at school: “How are you, Potty Trainer?”
He got the last laugh, though. The “H” stands for Harry. Yep, Harry Potter Trainer grew up outside Boston and had the name long before J.K. Rowlings thought of it. A few years ago, at the age of 87, he had stickers made up that said “Harry Potter was here.” Wherever he visited – the doctor’s office, a restaurant, even the underside of the toilet seat in our kids’ bathroom -- he would leave a sticker behind, underscoring the importance of a name, and who goes before us.
About Jennifer Trainer Thompson: WIth almost 500,000 books and posters in print, Jennifer Trainer Thompson has written more than fifteen books, including BEYOND EINSTEIN: THE COSMIC QUEST FOR THE THEORY OF THE UNIVERSE, which has been published in ten languages, JUMP UP AND KISS ME: SPICY VEGETARIAN COOKING, FEASTS AFLOAT, as well as a trilogy of books on ingredients native to her New England home: cranberries, blueberies, and maple syrup). Her most recent book is THE JOY OF FAMILY TRADITIONS, published by Ten Speed Press/Random House. You can contact her at www.joyoffamilytraditions.com