His name wasn’t always Lionel.
He was Arlo first.
As the technician’s wand-like tool moved across my belly, checking measurement after measurement, my husband and I, eyes eager, tears ready to spill, awaited the announcement.
I was sure that I was carrying a girl.
I always imagined having a daughter.
And so when the technician’s mouth turned upwards and she asked us The Question – “Would you like to know if you’re having a boy or a girl?” – our grins answered her query faster than our words ever could.
“It’s a boy!” she said.
And then my tears fell.
At first, the sight of my tears changed Jordan’s eyes from eager to elated to unease. He feared the worst: that I was disappointed, but how could I be?
There was a human being growing inside of me. And all along, he was a boy. It was his little elbows rubbing against my ribcage. His slender body sent ripples and wiggles across my abdomen, our own private dance lesson.
He was our boy all along. And so my tears were of overwhelm, of awe, and yes, of fear. But my fear wasn’t based on lack – it was the immensity, the fullness of it all: the responsibility to care for our son.
I quickly assuaged Jordan’s concerns with a smile as wide as my bubbling delight and disbelief.
As we walked out, my hands enveloping Jordan’s, one on each side, I leaned in and whispered, “He’s Arlo Jasper, then. Right, honey?”
“Could we do a different middle name?” he replied. “I’m not sold on Jasper.”
“Sure, we can talk about that,” I said. “My parents are going to LOVE that we’re naming him Arlo.”
Out of all of the boy names in the world, the name Arlo was carefully selected in honor of my late maternal grandmother, whose name was Arlyce. Jordan and I both wanted to give our son a name of significance, and this name satisfied that desire. I giggled whenever I thought about my parents, especially my mom, learning our boy’s name for the first time, which, as planned, would only occur within the confines of our hospital room after he was born. Until that moment, with only newborn squeaks and snuggles to tend to, our boy’s name was our little secret.
In light of our secret-keeping, after our ultrasound revealed that we would be parents to a little boy, my parents quickly began guessing what our boy’s name would be. Admittedly, my mother was much more engrossed in the baby name search than my father; each time that we would see each other, she’d have a fresh handful of names to share with me, and each time, she was newly convinced that she’d finally uncovered the secret.
It was a normal shopping trip to Target. I was around seven months pregnant at the time, and I remember walking out of the store, my mother in tow, and admiring the glimmers of spring temperatures finally taking hold in eastern South Dakota.
“What if you named the baby Arlo?” my mom asked, a chuckle in her voice. “Your dad always called your Grandma Arlyce that. He has a nickname for everyone…I wonder what the nickname will be for your boy!”
I swallowed hard, legitimately shocked that she had guessed the name that we would be giving our boy, and I tried hard to maintain my facial expressions to indicate no change in emotion. I made some sort of excuse about how my Dad’s nicknaming is indeed funny, and I swiftly changed the subject.
Later that afternoon, while I was placing Fiestaware dishes on our well-loved table for dinner with my parents, I exhaled, admiring the feelings of comfort of returning to my childhood home. Two years prior to this, Jordan and I had moved to Vermillion, a small college town about an hour away from home, and since I had never lived far away from home, barring a semester spent in the Twin Cities in college, it was a new and exciting treat to “come home,” one that I didn’t take for granted.
My father was seated in the living room, reading his newspaper – a daily ritual for him that’s as synonymous with my childhood as the Barbies I’d play with and the adventurous bike-trail rides I’d take with my brother. My mother smiled at me from the kitchen, and her voice lilted as she spoke.
“I thought of another possible baby name today, Joe!” she said excitedly. “What if they named the baby Arlo?”
My heart fluttered, not unlike the movements of our baby boy in my belly. My dad’s response was…unexpected.
“Well I hope not – that’s just an awful name!” he said with laughter in his voice.
I was sure that the look on my face betrayed my feelings, but I set down the silverware on the table and tried to conceal my shaking hands.
“HA, yeah, Mom – what a funny name!” I replied evenly.
Later that evening, after dinner had been consumed and cleaned up, I called Jordan, who stayed behind at our tiny apartment in Vermillion.
In the privacy of my childhood bedroom, I shared with Jordan the events of the day.
“We need to find another name for the baby,” I said, the emotion in my voice heavy.
Jordan tried his best to placate me, but I was resolute – despite my love for the name, I wouldn’t, I couldn’t name our boy Arlo.
I found the name Lionel that very evening. Many frantic searches of baby name websites yielded a short list of names that I presented to Jordan, and the instant I said “Lionel,” I felt something – and Jordan did, too.
That was our boy’s name.
I dug in deeper to my research, desperate to find a significance or a connection to this name that now felt so right. I paged through our family genealogy book, I scanned page after page of our heirloom family Bible, and I scoured the Internet for connections.
I found the confirmation I needed when I read the following:
Lionel (LYE-a-nel): A form of Leonard and Leonora; a male derivative of Helen. (Latin): Like a lion, young lion.
Our son’s first name was chosen to honor my paternal grandmother and Jord’s great-grandmothers, all of whom share the name Helen.
While I still adore the name Arlo, when I see the face of our sweet boy, I know that he was always meant to be our Lionel. It suits him, it suits our family, and my, is it ever a funny story that we like to tease my dad about.
Fun Fact: My father has literally no memory of the conversation described above. When I remind him of this in a teasing fashion, he simply replies, “I don’t remember that, but I can’t say I’m not happy that you didn’t name him Arlo. He’s our Lionel, for sure.”