For the past six months, my 11-year-old daughter and I have been preoccupied with baby names. You see, when my sister-in-law invited Natalie and I to offer name suggestions for her third baby, we embraced it like a full-time job.
At swim meets, we scoured the heat sheets for lovely names. At the doctor’s office, we exchanged knowing glances when we heard a name we thought my sister-in-law might like. My daughter and I searched baby name websites and when we found a good prospect, we’d pronounce it with the last name. If it had a pleasing sound, we’d write out the initials to make sure it didn’t spell anything inappropriate or odd. If the name passed all our tests, we’d send it to my sister-in-law hoping to make the monumental decision a little bit easier.
I’d nearly forgotten how both agonizing and exciting the name selection process was for my own two children. Tucked inside their baby books are lists of beautiful names that for several days or even months represented so much more than a name—they represented a future.
“I cannot wait for Natalie to be borned,” my fair-haired student, Morgan, would say every morning when she came to school and hugged my growing belly.
I joked with my students that Natalie would be a very smart girl someday because she attended nine months of first grade before she was even born. Deep down, it wasn’t really a joke. I felt as if I could see her future, or at least envision grand possibilities, simply by saying her name.
Upon arrival, Natalie instantly lived up to her name. She had a full head of jet-black hair and was content and alert. Upon arriving home from the hospital, I made up a song using her name so we both could hear the beauty of her name over and over. Through her early years, Natalie’s name remained a sacred word spoken with immense love and care.
But somewhere along the line, that changed.
Her name lost its careful consideration … its loving treatment … its great reverence.
Natalie, did you get your homework finished?
Please pick up the clothes on your bedroom floor, Natalie.
Natalie, what time is your friend’s birthday party?
Don’t forget your lunch money, Natalie.
I say those managerial things with her name attached to them each and every day—but do I take time to say her name with love, care, and concern?
Natalie, you matter to me.
I love being with you, Natalie.
Natalie, I love you just the way you are, exactly as you are.
Are you feeling okay about tomorrow’s test, Natalie?
Can I put my arm around you, Natalie?
I’m not sure I would had had this painful realization had it not been for an unexpected reminder I received while sitting in our new church recently. Although my family has been going there since our move last summer, I still feel new and don’t really know anyone. This actually came as a relief when tears began dripping down my face as the minister told a story—a story that had perfect timing for me. He recalled that a young man stopped him as he was getting in his car after church one Sunday. The pastor knew this young man had been going through a very tough time, making one poor choice after another. This young man, who had greatly disappointed his family, had one simple request. He asked, “Will you say my name in church next Sunday?”
At first the pastor didn’t understand why, but after some thought it was quite obvious.
“He didn’t want to be forgotten,” the minister explained.
As I drove home from church, the importance of speaking someone’s name was all I could think about. My mind flashed back to an experience that happened when I’d first moved to a new city in Alabama. My beautiful Southern friend invited me to have lunch at a local grocery store that had an extensive salad bar and a quaint outdoor patio. I stood in awe as my new friend greeted every grocery store worker by name as we made our way through the store.
“Sally, how’s the baby doing?” my friend asked the woman checking us out.
“Is your mom out of the hospital, Bob?” she asked the man bagging our groceries.
“Dave, what’s the latest on Jim?” she asked the manager. Jim worked in the meat department and had an unexpected death in the family, my friend later explained to me in her hushed southern drawl.
I’d honestly never seen anything like it in my life.
I watched as people with lowly shoulders stood taller at the sound of their name spoken in a warm, caring voice. For just a brief moment, amongst the hustle and bustle of a grocery store, their ordinary lives had meaning. For just a brief moment, amongst the hustle and bustle of life, they mattered.
By the time I got home from church, I felt like I’d been given the most simple, yet most powerful ingredient for meaningful connection in our fast-paced, media-saturated, often impersonal and superficial lives. It was this:
Speak his name.
Sing her name.
Whisper his name.
Cheer her name.
Pray his name.
Celebrate her name.
Say it with fondness.
Say it with tenderness.
Say it with reverence.
Say it with kindness.
Attach it to soul-building words like:
You are my favorite.
You are enough.
I believe in you.
I’ve been thinking about you.
Take a moment to remember the time, thought, and care that went into choosing the name of the person standing before you and then say it—say it as if it’s the most beautiful word that ever came from your lips. This one simple action holds the power to strengthen weak connections … make lowly shoulders rise … let someone know he is not forgotten.
Today, let us not forget.
With one single word, we have the power to heal the past, pause the present, and illuminate the future.
Simply say it with love.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Rachel’s first book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller. Her second book, HANDS FREE LIFE, hits bookstores on September 8th, 2015.
You can join Rachel on her journey to overcome distraction, live better, and love more at www.handsfreemama.com or The Hands Free Revolution on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheHandsFreeRevolution.