Here & there: A rose by any other name…

Sunburst at Devils Tower,  Devils Tower National Monument, Wyo., July 25, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Kat Dayton, St. George News
FEATURE — My first born left the hospital without a name. His father and I weren’t complete derelicts – we had some contenders – but naming a whole new human being is a big deal. We wanted to get it right. And in our defense, we hadn’t known our baby boy would be a boy until he emerged.

Three days postpartum, the hospital rang me at home. The purpose of the call? To get the name of our baby boy for the official birth record.

“We’re close,” I told the woman on the other end of the line, “but we’re not 100 percent sure yet.”

She inhaled sharply and paused. My hormone-riddled self was sure she was shaking her head with disapproval from her linoleum-floored office. And possibly clucking her tongue.

It didn’t help that she then informed me that she’d be sending the form off to the health department by end of day with or without my help. I’d have to do an amended birth certificate if I wanted my child to have a name other than “baby boy.”

I’m fairly certain she also inferred my child would resent having an amended birth certificate – a lesser birth certificate – and that he would know his parents didn’t love him enough to give him a name in the properly allotted time.

The reason for the rush? The following day was July 24, Utah’s Pioneer Day. She simply needed to have this piece of paperwork off her desk before the holiday.

Had I not been a new mother with sleep deprivation and leaking breasts, I might have challenged her. I might have even told her my pioneer ancestors and their holiday couldn’t give two broken axles about her paperwork.

I would have been proud about the care and attention we were putting into this important decision.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t.

Instead, I called my husband at work and sobbed. Our child was only 72 hours old, and we were already ruining his life.

We talked. I calmed down. We finalized our decision about our baby boy’s name over the phone. Our boy, who is now 15, feels loved and secure. His small sojourn without a name was never a worry.

But I’ve often thought about that exchange with the woman from the hospital. Her urgency to file the paperwork and my struggle to name a human being.

Names are important after all. They convey. They connote. They communicate.

When they go wrong, they can change a generation’s understanding of people – and things.

Take for instance Utah’s famous Delicate Arch. It was originally named Scenic Arch. Until a misprint in a government publication swapped the two names and forever changed what is delicate and what is scenic.

The arches haven’t suffered much from the mistake. But others aren’t so lucky.

Last week, my boys and I road-tripped 1,700 miles in a camper van across Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota to see some of the marvels of America: Devils Tower, Mt. Rushmore and Badlands National Park.

We arrived at Devils Tower in the middle of a powerful thunderstorm sometime after 11 p.m. The regular lightning strikes illuminated the night sky so that we could see the enormous rock eruption even at that late hour.

In response to a friend’s text, I detailed to her the circumstances of our arrival: “a dramatic storm at Devils Tower sounds about right!” I agreed. Of course there would be a tumultuous storm around a giant rock formation named after the Devil.

The next day, I learned better though. Devils Tower was a hasty misnomer, a failure in translation.

For thousands of years and to at least six Native American tribes, it wasn’t Devils Tower. It was Bear’s Lodge, a sacred place where they would winter, fast, pray and be healed.

The change of name immediately changed how I saw and understood the rock formation. It changed how I behaved in its presence.

The same is true for Badlands. This beautiful landscape that could be Bryce Canyon’s albino cousin or the backdrop for an amazing sci-fi movie was given its modern name by French trappers in the 1840s because it lacked water and was difficult to traverse.

But before the trappers, the land had been considered good by American Indians. For thousands of years they had hunted, quarried minerals for tools and weapons and collected plants for food and medicine. They had thrived on the land – from the land.

And yet, we know it as Badlands because someone misunderstood. Someone didn’t take the time to understand.

If I had to do it over again, I’d still take my time to name my boy. In fact, I’d deliberately take longer. Just for the sake of getting it right.

I’d also have a few strong words for the lady from the hospital. O, Pioneers!

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: katdayton@gmail.com | news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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