Dear Atticus, what’s in a name

To Kill a MockingbirdDear Atticus,

I always liked hearing how my mom and dad picked my name, so I wanted to tell you how your name came to be. Your dad and I have had a lot of discussions over the past ten years about possible theoretical children’s names, and we had a much easier time agreeing on a girl name. Your name, though, was harder for us. In the end, when your dad suggested it, I knew immediately that it was the right choice. Though there is an orthodox saint named Atticus (whose feast day is January 8th, not that you should wait quite that long to make an appearance), we chose your name from the Great American Novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. One day we will read that book with you, but until then, there are a few things that you should know.

Atticus Finch was a man who stood for what was right. We are giving you his name not because we want you to feel pressured to do what is right but because we want you to know that strength of character is important to us. It is hard to choose to do what is right. Atticus Finch knew that there would be little reward for his choices, he knew that he was beaten before he started. But he stood for the truth in spite of all of that. One of my students asked me how we chose the name Atticus for you, and I said, “One day you will read To Kill a Mockingbird. There is a character named Atticus who stood up for what was right, even when it was hard.” He asked me what I would do if you didn’t turn out to be that kind of person, and I told him that I would be disappointed, just like I am when any of my students (who are my children now) don’t stand up for what they know to be true. Your name is not meant to shame you into doing things you don’t believe in. It’s meant to remind you of what we hope you will value: justice, equality, and respect.

If that feels like a heavy weight to you, you should know that your name is also a reminder to us about the kind of parents we want to be. Atticus said that he couldn’t be a good parent to Jem and Scout or a good Christian unless he stood for what he believed. Your dad and I don’t know much of anything about being parents yet, but we will strive to be consistent and honest with you, like Atticus Finch was with Scout and Jem. We will try to look beyond ourselves and believe in things that are bigger than us. Those values we talked about up there? Those come from our belief in a real, redemptive God. And our desire to follow him compels us, like Atticus Finch, to stand for truth and against injustice.

The one thing that Atticus Finch is most known for saying is that you never really get to know a man unless you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. While pregnant with you, I read the book The Mockingbird Parables, and it made the point that Christians worship a God who took on human skin and walked around in it. I believe in that God, in that incarnation. I believe in a God who understands the challenges and joys of what it means to be human. My hope for you would be that you learn the compassion that Atticus Finch was talking about and that you come to believe in the miracle and mystery of a God who took on human flesh because he loves us. I don’t have all the answers about what that means (and I advise you not to trust anyone who does), but it is the belief that has shaped my life.

I wanted to tell you the rest, about your middle name and our choice to give you my maiden name as your last name, but that will have to wait until tomorrow, because this is plenty long enough already.


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