The lady at the doctor’s office called for Rickey three times before she tacked on our last name and I realized that she meant us. “Ridley” I told her as I gathered up my things and collected Scarlette from the corner, where she had built herself an impressively elaborate block fort.
“Riley?” she asked, with her pen poised over her checklist.
“Ridley” I replied, at the same time that Scarlette piped up “Ridley Jackson, that’s the name of our baby! He came out of Mommy’s tummy.”
When I was twenty two the guy I was was dating and I talked about our futures over dinner, the kind of future talk you have when you think maybe yours are going to intertwine. We talked about dream jobs and goals and how many kids we wanted. I told him that I might not be able to have any but if I did then I wanted to name a little girl Grace.
“If I ever have a son, I’m going to name him Ridley” he told me.
“Ridley?” I asked, wrinkling my nose.
“It’s a good name! I was watching Gladiator and at the end the director’s name came up, Ridley Scott, and I was like ‘that is a cool name. If I have a kid, I’m going to name him Ridley.’ Definitely Ridley.”
A few months later he slipped a ring on my finger and a few months after that we said I do to a future full of hopeful possibility.
Four years later I was all round belly when I called my best friend to tell her that the sonogram had revealed we were having a little girl.
“I’m so excited! I didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl but I have to say I’m a little glad I don’t have to tell J that I don’t actually want to name the baby Ridley” I told her.
We didn’t name the baby Grace either.
Instead we named her Scarlette and it remained on our lips in prayer as we held our breath for 156 days in a neonatal intensive care unit, hoping fervently we could bring our daughter home. After that we decided not to have any more babies.
Five more years passed before we sat Scarlette down and told her that, surprise! we were going to have a baby.
“Oh! Is it going to be a brother?” she asked, “Can I name it Tyler? OR GECKO?! That could be a great idea!”
I decided that I didn’t want to find out the gender.
I was so afraid to get attached to this baby during my pregnancy.
This time around picking names was much harder. I read seven hundred and forty three aloud to my husband and he vetoed the majority of them. That is not an exaggeration, I literally sat in the kitchen floor and read straight from the top 1000 baby-name list until I was out of breath from the baby pushing on my ribs. And that was just the girl names.
Scarlette’s name fit her so perfectly, all feisty and determined and strong and sweet. Nothing seemed to match it. I offered up Felicity and J vetoed. (He also vetoed Molly. Apparently he is against naming our babies after my American Girl dolls. I do not even understand why.) He suggested Ellie and I vetoed. We already have an Ally in the family, I told him.
“Well, at least we already have a boy name picked” he said.
“Um…we do?” I asked. This was news to me.
“Yeah, Ridley” he said confidently, as though this were an unmistakable fact.
In hindsight I probably shouldn’t have let almost a decade go by before I confessed that it wasn’t my favorite boy name ever but in my defense, this whole baby thing was a total surprise. I mean, after five years of being sure that we were going to be a one child family I really didn’t think it was ever going to come back up for discussion.
I began campaigning to name the baby J’s middle name if it were a boy. We were going to use his father’s name, Jackson, as the middle name and so I thought it would be sweet to name our son after both his father and grandfather. Plus, I love my husband’s middle name and secretly have ever since I fell in love with a character by the same name on Days of Our Lives in my teens. (Yes I do see the irony in that.*)
We settled on the name Lennon for a girl, or perhaps Adaire after our favorite little village in Ireland. Or maybe Reese. No, definitely Lennon we decided, until I was in the hospital room breathing heavily between contractions.
“I don’t know if I like our girl name!” I told him as gripped his hand.
And that’s how we ended up rolling down to the OR with him walking beside my wheelchair frantically reading off baby girl names from a random baby naming website that he pulled up on his phone to soothe me. Because I am slightly neurotic in every day life and turns out, that trait really intensifies when you are in labor.
Right before I went back he pushed my hair out of my face “We can give the baby my middle name if you want” he told me.
“No! Don’t give it to me! I’ll take it! I really love that name and I’m all hormonal and emotional and can’t make good decisions!” I told him. Then the anesthesiologist gave me something to calm me down. I really love those guys.
At 12:57 the doctor held my baby up above the curtain and asked my husband to announce the sex. When I heard him say that it was a boy I broke into fresh tears, so overjoyed to have a son. I just kept saying it over and over, “We have a son! We have a son!” And then I saw him and I knew instantly that he was Ridley, that he’s always been Ridley and that he was exactly who was supposed to fit perfectly into our family.
The doctor asked his name and I nodded at J who smiled as he announced “Ridley. Ridley Jackson.”
And then they laid him on my chest and I marveled at the abundance, of the fullness of him and the way God works all things together for our good, and I wondered how I could have ever wanted to name him anything else.
The name Ridley means “cleared land” and that is what this new season feels like, like fresh earth all turned over and tilled, a springtime arrival of new life and the enduring promise of a fruitful harvest.
And that’s how we named Ridley.
*To better understand that joke and to read the story of how we named our daughter, click here to read the first chapter of my book, Anchored, for free. All photos by Ashley Mushegan.