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Letter chain 

One of the most difficult but most meaningful experiences I've had as a parent has been selecting the names of my children. Before Stacy and I had our first child three years ago, we tossed names around at the dinner table, on hikes in the woods and at loud concerts, when we'd shout them to one another. The thrill of being expectant parents overloaded us with possibilities: We had too many that we liked but only one child to name at a time—and nine months to decide.

To keep tally, we started a Google Document to handle all of the ideas. Google Docs are mobile, so whenever we thought of something new, no matter where we were, we'd put it in the system. The flood continued. After all, we wanted a name that had everything—symbolic meaning, family relevance, easy spelling, some peculiarity, agreeable nicknames. I love being named Jedidiah, but, to be honest, living with a handle that's been misspelled almost daily has been a bit taxing. We wanted something classic but distinctive.

So we climbed our family trees and listed limbs we liked. I stared at the U.S. Social Security list of the 1,000 most popular names for hours. (You may be surprised to know that Nevaeh, or Heaven spelled backward, is the 35th most popular girl's name in America. God help us...)

Music has played a large part in our marriage; Stacy and I met at a Beatles cover band concert in downtown Raleigh. We dug extensively through their catalog for salient references. I sat on our living room floor, staring at the names and authors on our bookshelves, hoping one would appear as inspiration. We paid attention to the names of writers in magazines, characters on TV shows, friends and family members. Names swirled everywhere.

Slowly, the project took shape: Names disappeared and sometimes reappeared in the Google Doc. When good friends gave their child one of our contestants, we'd highlight that choice and delete. We tested out middle name combinations and, the second time around, how the names of both kids would look beside one another and our own.

We didn't know the sex of either of our children before birth, so it made those important dates that much more interesting. After our daughter was born late last month, we simply told everyone "It's a Girl!" before staring at her and our list of finalists, trying to decide what felt right. In the end, our pool included more than 85 candidates. But the ones that came to be were Oliver Kimball Gant and Eleanor Lewis Gant, each reflecting branches of our family tree.

They incorporate other references, too: Oliver's name gained a deeper meaning while he was in treatment, with the Elvis Costello song "Oliver's Army" becoming a mantra for our support group of family and friends. Eleanor means "to heal or soothe," which we find quite comforting as we emerge from Oliver's long battle with cancer. We've since learned that Norah, which will be Eleanor's nickname, means "awesome" in Hebrew. While we aren't the most religious of families, there's something quite refreshing about that unintentional layer of meaning. In a sea of seemingly infinite choices, it seems like surprise validation.

  • We climbed our family trees and listed limbs we liked.

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