The why and how of picking Jonah Patrick Davison as a name for our son.
Naming our kid wasn’t an easy process. Erin and I waded through lots of alternatives, both brainstorming on our own and reading through baby naming books we borrowed from Carol. We had an easier time with girls names, which I understand is fairly common. There are a lot of pretty girls names out there, and we came up with two or three which we liked a lot. Who knows? We may use them next time around. It was much harder with boys names, but we’re ecstatic with our choice, and happy to share how “Jonah Patrick Davison” popped out of the lottery machine when the time came.
I’ll start with the last name first. “Davison” is, as I was once told by a thick-brogued taxi driver whilst driving around the Loch Ness, “a fine Scottish name.” Indeed the clan’s patriarch was Scotsman Daniel Davison, a British prisoner of war who was shipped to the colonies, achieved his freedom after a period of indentured servitude, and went on to sire the largest line of Davisons in the world. His Davison descendants have fought on the American side in every major war, excluding perhaps Vietnam. We’ve been farmers, soldiers, doctors, college professors, pioneers, businessmen, general contractors, and so on. We’re a solid middle class bunch who have helped build this country. If you’ll forgive a touch of genealogist’s ego, we’re good folk, and Jonah’s lineage is a proud one.
For first names, Erin and I were somewhat at odds. We both wanted something out of the ordinary. I also wanted it to be somewhat traditional, possibly even biblical. For example, we both like names such as Joshua or Jacob, but they’re very popular names right now, and we wanted our kid to have something uncommon. Erin can happily say that in her years of teaching she has never had a “Jonah.” (Also important because many times a name may be ruined by association with an unruly student.) In Jonah, we have a name that is recognizable, traditional, and uncommon.
It’s also biblical, and I want to talk about that, because I enjoy that fact quite a bit. The Book of Jonah is a short comedic parable in the Hebrew Scriptures. The story goes like this: Jonah is an obscure Galilean prophet who receives a call from God to preach in Nineveh. Jonah hears this and runs in the opposite direction. He boards a ship which gets caught in the midst of a raging tempest. Jonah sleeps in the midst of the storm. The sailors accuse him of being evil; Jonah agrees to be a human sacrifice to appease God. Famously, Jonah is swallowed by a whale. Once in the belly of the beast he sings to God a hymn of thanksgiving. Ultimately the whale spits him out and he goes to Nineveh to preach as God commanded. The Ninevites repent as he urged them to. Jonah complains about God showing mercy, the very thing he thanked God for when Jonah disobeyed God and was swallowed up. Maybe it’s not Robin Williams or Jim Carrey doing stand-up, but it’s pretty funny stuff in a religious context.
Whether this humor is appreciated or not is likely dependent on a person’s interpretation of the bible. Let me quote Lawrence Boadt, a biblical scholar, on the subject of The Book of Jonah:
…the author of the Book of Jonah knew that his audience would enjoy the story and not be forced to choose whether it could actually have happened or not, or whether the fish was a whale or a shark. Only in modern times have Christians forgotten the ability of the Bible to tell stories to make its points, and tried instead to explain everything “scientifically.” Jonah is a rousing tale of a prophet gone off the deep end, so to speak. The author makes some important points about prophecy and the nature of God without ever losing his sense of humor while creating his outrageous tale and its several separate plots. (Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, 468)
The irony is rich as Jonah exhibits behavior opposite of what we would expect from a prophet. If that flummoxes modern day fundamentalist Christians, so much the better as far as I’m concerned. Among other things, the Book of Jonah is a reminder that the bible contains all manner of literary styles. I love that it uses devices like irony and humor to make its points, and further, I love the points it makes. Again, Lawrence Boadt:
…The story of Jonah has several lessons that work on many levels as we read it:
(1) it presents the universal love of God even for Gentiles;
(2) it shows God’s control over all of nature and all peoples;
(3) it ridicules some of the narrow nationalism in Judah;
(4) it is satire on the actions of many prophets;
(5) it affirms that God is not merely "just" in his actions;
(6) in fact, God acts in strange and sometimes humorous ways;
(7) and we cannot figure God out according to our desires.
In short, Jonah is both entertainment and lesson….(ibid, 470)
It’s fair to say that the tradition behind the name of Jonah appeals to me greatly.
Erin and I debated middle names quite a bit too. The criterion that decided things was meaning. Her family has a history of Irish names, and “Patrick” certainly acknowledges and builds upon that tradition. For me, though, “Patrick” was an homage to my best mate Dave, whose middle name is also Patrick. Dave has stood by me through grade school, middle school, high school, college, and beyond. In giving my son the same middle name, I’m expressing my hope that Jonah, too, will find the same kind of life-long friend that I’ve found in Dave.