What’s In a Name?

…Actually, quite a bit for our baby boy

We named our daughter McKinley after what was then officially known as Mt. McKinley in Alaska, North America’s tallest peak. We wanted her to have a name that reflected our lifestyle, our values, and what we hope will become her lifestyle and values. As the birth of our baby boy approached in 2015, my wife Liza and I wanted to name him in a similar way. Like McKinley, we wanted a name we wouldn’t find on a souvenir store keychain display. We wanted something unusual.

We chose his middle name early, deciding on James to honor my father and Liza’s grandfather. During Liza’s pregnancy, we had only some preliminary discussions about first names. So when our little guy was born twelve weeks early in March 2015, we were caught unprepared.

Our preliminary list of names reflected our inclination for outdoorsy, nature themed monikers, such as Hunter and Rainier. Bryce was inspired by Bryce National Park, which we visited on our honeymoon. Everest has obvious origins. Taylor was a favorite for both Liza and I. It is the name of a river, a lake, and a high mountain park in one of our favorite areas of Colorado near Crested Butte. Also a favorite on our lists was Logan. Located in the Canadian territory of Yukon, the 19,551-foot Mount Logan is the second tallest peak in North America. This was my favorite name, as I figured since our first born was named after the continent’s tallest mountain then we should name our second born after Logan.

Liza’s concern with Logan was that it is exceedingly popular with parents lately. It ranked in the top twenty of all male baby names. The same could be said about Taylor, which was in the top 50 and rising fast thanks to the guy from the Twilight movies.  Those two names will undoubtedly be on souvenir store keychain racks soon, if they aren’t already.

As premature as our son was, his survival was not a given. When I watched his delivery, being pulled from the womb literally kicking and screaming, I witnessed his toughness for the first time. His lungs weren’t developed enough for him to breath on his own, so a machine had to keep him alive through his first few days. It wasn’t long until he began progressing faster than anyone anticipated. He was soon removed from the ventilator and placed on a CPAP. Some of his vitals were more in line with preemies a couple of weeks or more along. I began to second guess my favorite name. I realized that as much as I liked the name Logan and the concept of our second born being named after North America’s second summit, our tough little boy didn’t deserve taking second to anything.

The third favorite name on our lists was Denali. Inspired by the national park, it is also the Native American name for Mt. McKinley (it was officially renamed Denali in 2016). While researching the name Denali, we learned that it’s an Athabaskan word which translates (roughly) into “the great one.” Its appropriateness struck Liza and I immediately as we watched him fight through his first few days. It also seemed to us a meaningful bond for him and his sister. We gave ourselves a full day “trial period” of using the name just between us before we decided officially.

Denali James Grimes is indeed a “great one,” a tough kid who at birth was already winning a battle most of us luckily avoided. He was as determined to stay on this Earth as a mountain of rock.

When the kids are old enough we will take a family trip to Denali National Park. When the early morning fog begins to clear and our kids see Denali for the first time towering before them, I will explain to them that their names are not just names. Their names are a shared symbol, an appeal from their parents to always explore, seek adventure, and rise above all the challenges and obstacles in their lives. I have no doubts McKinley will do just that. But Denali–he was already doing it the day he was born.

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