The Five Ivans and Ivy

*Published with permission.

My wife and I were at a gathering with our small group from church. More often than not, these groups were excuses to socialize with other adults and drink copious amounts of wine. But on this particular night, we were talking about something — memory eludes me of what the topic was, but it must have been serious because I remember sitting in the circle listening and participating.

Amanda, my wife, was pregnant with our 4th child. We still had not decided on a name and were continuously trying on different names to see how they might fit our yet unborn child.

As the night was wrapping up, someone mentioned that we should remember Ivan in our thoughts and prayers because he was not doing well. Ivan was a legend at our church. An elderly man from Scotland, he would sit and tell you story after story about his life. As someone mentioned his name that night, a moment of psychic electricity passed between Amanda and I. We looked at each other and we both knew. Our child’s name would be Ivan.

As with all of our kids, when we heard what would be the name of our child, we knew that was it. There was no changing our minds. Ivan it was.

Along with their brothers, Ivan attended a Montessori school. As is the norm with Montessori education, the students are encouraged to question and research and come up with answers to their questions on their own. Ever the inquisitive one, Ivan once asked where their name came from. Eager to tell the story of their name, they listened attentively but I could see the disappointed look on their face. Crestfallen, they said, “but I thought I was named after Ivan the Terrible (Thanks, Maria Montessori). From that point on, they started counting the different Ivans they would encounter.

So far, the list contained Ivan (themself), Ivan the person who they were named after, and Ivan the Terrible.

The radio in our car was usually tuned to 104.1, a talk radio station out of Orlando. One day we were listening and there happened to be an update about traffic on Ivanhoe Boulevard. Ivan perked up and said, “There’s a road named Ivan?” Another Ivan was added to the list.

Every year during hurricane season, seemingly common names have the potential of becoming synonymous with particularly bad storms. Even though they were only 2 when Hurricane Ivan hit Florida, it somehow became a part of their collective conscience because #5 on the Ivan List was the hurricane that hit Florida.

As they got older, the List of Ivan’s grew to be a fond parental memory. One of those things that we tuck away in our memories and randomly remember with a smile and a gentle chuckle of nostalgia. Ivan just became Ivan. They were the baby of the family who was eternally three in my mind, even though they were actually seven. They were quiet, never outspoken, loyal to their friends and loved playing outside.

It is common practice and something taken for granted that parents are the ones responsible for naming their children. When our second child was born, we didn’t finalize his name until we were leaving the hospital and they needed to fill out his birth certificate paperwork. Amanda and I would talk about what if our child isn’t the “parent decided given name” and another name best suited him? We finally settled on the name we chose for him. As parents, we come up with names for our children that are meaningful (to us), sounds interesting, or is just an inoffensive, normal name. I have always thought it odd that parents would choose a first name for their child and then call him or her something completely different or settle on a nickname. Amanda and I were no different, each of the names that we chose for our kids was significant to us.

To us.

Not to our kids, but meaningful to the parents. If you think about it, this is a selfish act that doesn’t consider the child’s personality nor gives the child a voice in the decision. It would be interesting to give a child a “temporary” name and let them decide as they get older. Granted you would probably have to go through a period when your child wants to be named T-Rex or Princess Ariel or Xyzfg, but that is no different than my second child, Asher, telling us he had a W and an X in his name and his name was now Ashwerx. For a period of time, he would not respond to any other name.

For the most part, kids usually grow into their given names. But Ivan did not.

It was during quarantine, and who knows what we were doing, watching Netflix, working on Zoom, sleeping — our kids did a lot of sleeping during the height of quarantine. But at some point, in their quiet way, Ivan told my wife that they no longer wanted to go by Ivan — her new, self-chosen, name was Ivy. Amanda spoke with Ivy about this and she was firm. Her name was no longer Ivan. Honestly, this came as a bit of a shock to me. But as a parent, you shake that shock off because it isn’t about you, and you focus on Ivy.

Getting out of the habit of calling her Ivan and calling her Ivy has truthfully been easy. And that is simply because the name Ivy fits her. Ivy is who she is, it is a part of her identity. It has been wonderful watching her come into her own. And I’m so thankful that she feels safe enough to become the person who she is meant to be.

So while the list of Ivans was cute and humorous, the truth of the matter is that there are no longer any Ivans, just Ivy.

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