Naming Someone: A Love Story

Jennifer R. Jensen

We named our children before we were dating; then our adult child changed the name we chose.

It was a warm summer day. The man I would someday marry rode in the passenger seat, the boy I was currently dating was driving. I sat in the back seat leaning forward so we could all hear each other. We had been on an excursion together somewhere, maybe the beach, maybe a park. We were headed home, and as we drove down the semi-country road, I piped up with a new conversation topic.

“If I ever have kids, I want to name my son Christopher Michael,” I said, hoping to impress the driver, Michael. He grunted, and continued driving.

“Oh,” Tom, my future husband replied, “what would you name a girl?”

“I think Lynaela Katheryn, after my mom and because I invented Lynaela,” I said.

“I’ve always wanted to name a daughter after my mom,” Tom said.

“What’s her name?” I asked

“Shelby,” he said. “She was born in Alabama at home. My grandpa had to walk to the county seat to register her birth. He claimed he forgot whatever my grandma wanted to name her, so he named her Shelby” He laughed at that and I smiled back. “My grandma was mad, but I’ve always liked it. Even though it is supposed to be a boy’s name,” he added.

“Oooh—I might steal that—Shelby Kathryn-lynae sounds so cool!”

And just like that—my future husband and I named our future, entirely hypothetical, probably going to be born with other people, children. It was actually a prophetic glimpse of him as a parent that made me decide to marry him, but that’s a story for another day. Our firstborn was a son, named Christopher (but not Michael!) and five years later, while we were awaiting our second, we weren’t sure of the sex, but we did know that if they were a girl, their name was already decided: Shelby Kathryn-lynae. Tom’s mother was very excited when our child, assigned female at birth, was born.

As is normal for everyone, both of our children had some challenges growing up. Some of which we didn’t know about, others we experienced together as a family. Tom wound up having some serious chronic illness, and ultimately needed multiple surgeries culminating in a double below the knee amputation; we lost our home when our youngest was a junior in high school to a hundred years flood; they experienced significant mental illness during their college years, resulting in multiple hospitalizations for medication modifications and therapeutic and behavioral counseling. As a family, all of these experiences were daunting and hard, but as my husband recently said to me, we haven’t really had hard times as long as we’ve had each other. I know that sounds kind of sappy, but it really is our story. We’ve had fights and arguments and other kinds of normal tensions and issues. But we have always found our way back to loving one another and being stronger together.

In December of 2021, my husband’s mother, our child’s namesake, passed away.

In February of 2022, our youngest child came out to us as non-binary with pronouns of they/them/their. Although it was somewhat of a surprise, it also wasn’t. I had often suspected they were trans, although I had sort of a “traditional” intuition—I thought they were a trans male person. Initially, because I think they were trying to take it slow for us (their parents), they did not mention a name change. I was relieved, because, well, it seemed like their name was a big part of our love story and I didn’t want to lose that. I was worried that my husband would be devastated, after all, it was his mother—and although their relationship was often strained (even to the end, but again a different story for another time), he loved her.

By March, my child had decided to change their name. They had their own strained relationship with the grandmother that made them not want to keep a name associated with her, but they also thought something else would feel more like them. The name they initially chose was connected to another difficulty for my husband, which meant he really struggled. There were some words, some explanations, some tears. Ultimately, our child found the perfect name for them. They kept their middle name, but reimagined their first name to work for them.

Today, it is their birthday, nearly a year after they came out to me, and a month and a half since they legally changed their name. In the last year, I have watched them bloom and blossom into who they were always supposed to be. And as my husband and I have walked through this with them, we have both been able to see past the little story of how we picked our children’s names before they were born, before we were even technically a couple, to the wonder and beauty of a created person becoming who they were meant to be. It’s no longer just my story, or his story, but it is bigger and the expansion includes more than we could have thought possible way back when.

In honor of their birthday, I reimagined Psalm 139:13-16 as a song acknowledging their uniqueness but also their being made, still, in the image of God, the creative Maker whose love and intention for us are also much bigger than the story we keep for ourselves.

You created me.
You molded & shaped & crafted
my pieces & parts
You infused me with your goodness
with kindness and strength.
I praise you for making me in this way,
for you only make good people
created in your image
built with love
forged in the furnaces of the ultimate Maker.
As you watch me
grow to who you have set me free to be
launched from the womb of my parent,
I can feel your knowing smile
wash over my spirit
I hear you call me by my name
and whisper beloved you are mine.

Rev. Jennifer R. Jensen (she/her) is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. She serves as an associate pastor on the Northwest Indiana district and bi-vocationally, works as a consultant for computer software. She has a business degree from Olivet Nazarene University and a Master of Education. She loves Jesus, her husband, her children, and her grandchildren.

One response to “Naming Someone: A Love Story”

  1. I love this! It helps me understand the real struggles faced to simply become who you are. It shouldn’t be this hard.

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