What’s in a name?

A couple of Theodores, except the little one’s better known as Tully.

We got our best Christmas present early this year. A couple of weekends ago, I awoke to an announcement, appropriately enough these days, on our cell phones with an image and some text.

“Meet your newest grandson,” our son-in-law texted us. “Tully Theodore.”

Our sixth grandchild is a boy. For those keeping score, he weighed seven pounds, five ounces. And he was born at 7:37 on a Sunday morning. And it really is cause for celebration, if for no other reason than our daughter Whitney’s two previous children were born early, her first prematurely; so, it was comforting to learn that her third child was fairly close to her due date.

As usual, however, Whitney and Ian had chosen a different set of names for their newest addition. I had to admit I’d never heard the name Tully before as a child’s first name. They told us that his name is Gaelic and means “who goes in peace.” Of course, I couldn’t leave it at that.

I had to look a little further into some background to its origins and essence. And the name really is off the beaten path as far as names go. In fact, when I checked how frequently Tully appears as a name, for example in American culture, the site said: “This name has never ranked among the top 1,000 names in America.”

On the other hand, given all the recent attention in U.S. show business circles for the name Alexander Hamilton, I was surprised to learn that the Revolutionary War hero and central figure in the 2015, Tony-Award-winning, Grammy-Award-winning, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning Broadway musical also has a connection to the name, Tully. Apparently when he railed against those in America who turned to lawlessness to press their views, Hamilton would write editorials for newspapers using the pen name Tully, which was another name for Cicero, one of the last defenders of the Roman Republic.

“Shall the majority govern or be governed?” Hamilton wrote as Tully in 1794. “Shall the nation rule or be ruled? … The instruments by which government must act are either the authority of the laws or force. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government, there is an end to liberty!”

That Tully connection was pretty impressive. But there are others. Tully is also the name of an Australian rock band. And next year a motion picture, called “Tully,” will be released. It’s about Marlo, a mother of three, including a newborn, who receives the gift of a night nanny from her brother; the story revolves around the unique relationship between the mother and the challenging young nanny, Tully. It stars Charlize Theron as Marlo and Mackenzie Davis as Tully.

But our new grandson’s second name has particular significance for me. Theodore is actually my given name. At the time of my birth, back in 1949, most of my family members – mostly living in the United States – attended the Greek Orthodox Church. I think my mother and father chose the name Theodore partly out of respect for that religious connection – Theodore translated from Greek means “gift of God.”

But I think they chose Theodore more to honour my mother’s father, who was also named Theodore. Let me tell you, there was a lot of recognition of my grandfather in our family. I was named after him. And a number of my cousins were named after him. Whenever the family gathered and somebody called out, “Ted,” no fewer than three people generally answered.

Honouring my grandfather Ted didn’t end there. Back in 1977, when my first book was about to be published, I approached my publisher, McClelland and Stewart, with what I thought was an important question.

“Would it be OK if I used my given name on the book jacket?” I asked.

“You don’t want to use ‘Ted’?” they wondered.

“Well, I’d like my grandfather to see his name on the cover of my first book,” I said. They hesitantly agreed. At that point, I guess they figured I was probably a one-book wonder, and it wouldn’t really matter, as long as they got the Canada Council grant money that came with publishing a new Canadian title. Unfortunately, my grandfather did not live to see the book in print, but at least the thought was there. I guess that’s how the business of honouring a namesake goes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Several days after Tully Theodore was born, when he was home, I had a chance to hold the new addition to the family in my arms for the first time. Naturally, it was quite emotional. Births of children and of grandchildren always are. But when I pondered the names his parents had given him, it made an even deeper impression. The names have history. They are unique. They honour the past and offer hope for the future. An auspicious beginning, I’d say.

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