We recently celebrated our daughter’s 6th birthday. People always ask us the significance of her name, and I wanted to write a piece to give the name its due, its blessings, and burdens. This is our family’s story of how a grandmother from the ancestral realms returned to us in this time and place, and how we were given the responsibility to care for her in this lifetime as our daughter.
How do you name such a gift?
Hope Springs Eternal
Once upon a time, in the great white north, there was a loving couple waiting for the world to end. Unbeknownst to them, on this long and dark winter solstice night, as the yule log burned bright in the hearth, another light had flickered on, and a glorious spark was lit that would change their lives forever. On this night deep and potent magic was made manifest with the help of the otherworld.
We were in a cozy apartment on Rue Sainte Famille, in Quebec City, one of our favorite places to celebrate the winter holidays. We had enjoyed a delicious meal of savory elk sausages in lingonberry sauce, and were settled onto a comfy couch with our two dogs, under a nice thick blanket, drinking scotch. The streets were brightly festooned for the season and the air was thick with snowfall. We had finally come to a sense of peace in our hearts that although we would have a different life than the one we always pictured with children running about, it was still a beautiful life and we could now make it our own.
This was, in our imaginings, the first of many such holidays we would spend traveling as a whirlwind couple. We ran our own successful business that we could do from any computer, and if we weren’t able to have a family, then we would do what we loved second best – lots of traveling. It was a consolation prize, but the one we had embraced.
This was to be a very short-lived dream indeed, for just a few weeks later, we discovered that our many prayers had been answered, and I was pregnant. We had lost a child already, and we tried not to get our hopes up, even though we couldn’t help ourselves. However there was already something magical about this being, because after many years of trying to conceive, and once we had completely given up any flicker of hope that it would ever happen, our daughter was conceived on the night of the sacred Winter Solstice, 12/21/2012. This was the assumed predicted end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, and it was the end of our world in a sense.
The Importance of a Name
Many years ago when I fell in love with a runty kitten and brought her home my wise mom suggested that I give her a strong name; something to live up to. So I named her after one of the strongest priestesses in the King Arthur myths, Nimue.
After the first trimester, we allowed ourselves to be outwardly excited. We spent time in Florida with family around the 5-month mark, when the little one started to become very active, especially when we were by the ocean. As the waves washed onto shore, the flutterings became stronger, so much that I joked we could call her Ondina, for “little wave”. My name, Jennifer means “white wave” in Brythonic, an early British language, and so it wasn’t so strange an idea to continue the legacy.
This child was so wanted, and so precious beyond anything that the name had to be right. I knew early on, through dreams, signs, and other synchronicities that this was an old soul I was carrying and that it was one of the ancestors returned. Children are the living hopes and dreams of their ancestors; their flesh and blood returned. But I believe, as do many others in cultures all over the world, that sometimes an old soul returns as a way to help the family in some way or to accomplish something in the world that it is meant to do.
Years before my daughter was even a flicker in my eye, a friend of mine who has knowledge of the Otherworld told me that I was going to have a daughter whose spiritual gifts would be greater than mine. That this daughter would challenge me, and that she would be my greatest teacher. This one needed a name that lived up to her.
What’s in a Name?
I long ago decided that I wanted my children to have names that meant something. Although I have come to love my own name, Jennifer, I think this desire was initially a product of having such a popular name myself, growing up. There was always at least one more Jennifer in my classes in school, and for many years, I felt like my name did not reflect my uniqueness.
Once I realized Jennifer was a more modern version of Guinevere, another figure from my favorite legend, I began to appreciate the name more. Recently a strong connection to my own name came full circle when I discovered through delving deeper into ancestor work that many of my ancestors on several lines come from the area of northern England and southern Scotland, which used to be united and occupied by the native Pretani (or in modern English, the British). Later in history that land was known as the Kingdom of Strathclyde, where they spoke a now-dead Brythonic language called Cumbric. Jennifer is a Brythonic name.
The Naming Process
In actuality, it was not so difficult for me to name my daughter, for when I was about 5 months pregnant with her, she told me her name was Alba while I was dreaming. I knew I was having a girl almost as soon as I realized I was pregnant. So we were focusing our name search on feminine names. At first, my husband wasn’t convinced about the name, but the next day he told me he couldn’t sleep because he was thinking about the name all night, and if we added “Rose” to it, he believed it was perfect. Then he also suggested adding Jenevieve to her name, as a nod to myself, and Guinevere (strong women), and our daughter’s French Canadian connection, being conceived in Quebec City.
Little did we know at that time the significance of that, nor did we realize the many synchronicities her name would hold until much later, sometimes years later.
We have an international family. Half are Americans with a mix of Scottish, English, Irish, German and Finnish ancestry, while the other half are Italians, mostly from Sardinia, with a bit of Roman, Calabrian, and Sicilian mixed in for good measure. Since we are also a bilingual family, with most of the Italian side speaking only Italian, we knew our child’s name had to be easy to say in either language.
Alba Rose Jenevieve
Alba means “the dawn” in Italian, which is half of her heritage, and the name is fairly popular in Sardinia. Since the winter solstice is the beginning of the days getting longer, it is the dawn of the lighter half of the year. Her conception was also the dawn of a new life for our family. In Vermont, where she was born, the dawn light was often a vibrant pink, like the color Rose. Alba is also the Gaelic word for Scotland. But there is more, so much more.
Personal Name History
As time went on, we came to discover that Alba, is an ancient European rose variety, which was one of the symbols of the Jacobite rising in Scotland. Some of my Scottish clans fought in the Battle of Culloden on the side of the Jacobites, and that link to my ancestors through our daughter is hard to ignore, especially since my husband felt that adding “Rose” to Alba would make her name perfect.
Our Alba is definitely a fighter, and I have coined her my “little Valkyrie”. I chalk up her combativeness, and fierceness to her warrior spirit, ingrained in her DNA. It helps me, as her mother on especially hard days, to understand her better, and put some of her traits into a context that makes sense, historically, and spiritually.
We also discovered much later that the Latin name for the Barn Owl is Tyto Alba, and of course barn owls are very common in Vermont, where Alba was born.
On the eve of her birth, an owl landed on the roof outside of our bedroom window and hooted three times. I shouldn’t have been surprised, as I had become obsessed with buying owl things for her during my pregnancy. I leaned over to my husband, and quietly whispered, “ I wonder if this is a herald of her birth”. Never before, or since has such an experience happened again, in all the 8 years we lived in that house.
Sure enough, Alba was born the very next day right at home. We will never truly know if it was in fact a barn owl that was on the roof that night heralding her birth, but the discovery of the Latin name with all the other synchronicities sure points to that, and it is now part of her official birth story. She proudly tells people that her spirit animal or special animal is the barn owl.
Born in the Caul
Just to make sure I didn’t forget my daughter’s foretold attributes, she was the 1 in over 80,000 babies to be born in the birth sac, or the caul, which in many cultures denotes a very lucky person with great spiritual gifts, and the ability to see beyond this world, or beyond the veil as it is sometimes described.
In Italian, it is called con la camicia (‘born with a shirt’), in other cultures it is referred to as the “helmet”, or being born with a veil. Some persons of note who were also born in the caul are: Napoleon Bonaparte, Sigmund Freud, Charlemagne, and Lord Byron.
She’s Not Fragile Like a Flower, She’s Fragile Like a Bomb
All of the things my friend told me about my daughter have turned out to be true. She is extremely empathic and highly sensitive to the world around her, which often makes her very anxious. She is intense, spirited, and strong-willed. She has strong likes and dislikes. She shies away from gray areas.
She has always known what she wants and has always found a way to get her needs met. Everything she does is with conviction, and she will never go back on a decision once it is made. I can be stubborn myself, but she is very strong in her sense of self, and although it can be challenging for her and those around her, I want to keep that alive in her. It will serve her well in life. But as a result, she struggles daily.
She sees the world differently from many others and has an insatiable curiosity when it comes to the cycles of life and death. She always stops to explore dead animals. We asked her why she likes to look at them, and she said simply because they can’t move, so she can get a better look at them.
She is very inquisitive about how bodies work and has some innate healing abilities. For example, she can cure hiccups (I swear!) and can alleviate pain through the touch of her hands.
She is also able to see through things sometimes, even walls. For example, we were sitting at a restaurant and she kept talking about a round white clock that she could see. Neither my husband nor I could see a clock from any angle. Eventually, when we got up and went into the adjacent room, there was a round white clock on the wall, right on the other side of the spot on the wall that she kept pointing to. There were no mirrors or no way she could have seen the clock from where she was sitting.
As a spiritual person, I have thought long about her difficulties navigating this world. Why would someone be born this way, and how can someone so young already have such deep struggles? Her father and I truly believe that her difficulty in our modern world stems from a lack of understanding. Her traits are not nourished and treasured by society at large, instead they are seen as challenges and difficulties she must transform or overcome.
As her mom, my challenge is to honor and hone her gifts, while setting her up for success. I need to help her navigate her inner and outer worlds in these modern times where the goal imposed on someone like her by society is to be “regulated” and “mainstreamed”. I have my work cut out for me, and we have a lot of hard days. Yet I never want her to lose sight of herself, her innate gifts, or her inner compass and it still breaks my heart that she will likely struggle to keep the balance for the rest of her life. Some days I find it hard to cope, but then I look at her in all her fierce glorious brightness, and I am just so damn proud of her.
We always say that she is like one of the Goddess Freyja’s own. Freyja is both goddess of love, and of war. She is beautiful, bright, and shining, but also the most frightful to behold on the battlefield. Who knows what changes Alba might fight for in this world with that tenacious spirit of hers?
I know that if she lived in the time of some of our ancestors when individualism was more accepted and even valued, she would have already begun training with the wise women of the village who would understand her traits as gifts, and those gifts would be channeled into helping the community.
My Greatest Teacher Has Reminded Me of My Purpose
This is what my life’s mission has become – to help both of my children hone their individual gifts and use them as a way to make this world a better place, and in turn to help other people find their way.
It’s why I love to read and write fiction, folklore, and myths – stories that help us remember who we were, who we are, and who we can aspire to be. To be reminded that we have deep roots in a time and place that held other values as paramount rather than the ones our world holds most dear now.
We live in a world that is severely upside-down.
It is usually those who struggle because they are different who can make the biggest differences in today’s world. They can see beyond the mundane, and see the injustice in the world more clearly. But more importantly, they see how the world can be better, and brighter. What society deems as “stubborn” or “combative” natures in people, can sometimes be as simple as a person seeing through the falsehoods and inconsistencies in this world, and refusing to go with something that doesn’t feel right at a deep level.
It’s also why I write about culture, and the old ways. I want to help people lay the groundwork, and find a frame of reference for how to apply more tried and true ways of being, when we lived closer to nature and the world around us, with all its other inhabitants. I write to remember where we come from, and the value of that knowledge, and most importantly, how to bring those important lessons into our everyday lives so we can live more fully.
When I look at all I have written here, the only thing I can say, especially as a writer of myths, and folklore is: “You can’t make this up!” Sometimes the truth is stranger and more vibrant than fiction.
What Does it Mean?
That we need to listen and to trust; that if we give up our agenda, the most magical things can happen.
That we all have a purpose in this world, and that too often we lose sight of it at an early age because of our desire to fit in and stay under the radar. Sometimes it is taken from us by the adults around us who have forgotten the ways they used to think when they were children, themselves. I’m grateful for my children. They have given my life a laser focus, and from that focus, everything else stems. But this was already foretold.
As my teacher, mentor, and friend Francesca De Grandis once told me when discussing Alba’s difficulties, that babies don’t come into this world as blank slates. Sometimes they come with ancestral burdens, but they also come with their own purpose and their own tools for managing their difficulties and the difficulties they will face in the world.
So while she is young, I truly listen to my daughter and ask her questions, like she is a wise old grandma. This helps me formulate ideas and tools to help her manage while keeping to her own unique nature.
I agree with my teacher, we do not come into this world as a blank slate. We come with the love and blessings of our ancestors – we come with their gifts, we come with certain knowledge and it is our sacred duty to allow those gifts to blossom.
When my friends are having a hard time coming up with names for their children, I tell them the story of Alba’s name, in hopes that it might inspire them to listen to their babies, and in turn their own innate wisdom. So if your baby tells you his or her name trust and be open to that truth, and the many blessings that come with it.
How did you choose a name for your loved one (be it a child, or a pet)?