This town in Provence hunkers behind golden walls, it’s streets leading toward a cafe- and boutique-studded heart like some inverted compass, beckoning us in from all points. This town in Provence is cobblestones and ivy and flowers and fountains and shutters and stairs and gold and blue and croissants and pizza and olive oil. This town in Provence wears lavender perfume oil like some perpetual Persephone.
This town in Provence gave our daughter her name.
We were drawn into this town in Provence when I was still too newly pregnant to have any physical disturbance to my clothes that would foreshadow how dramatically our lives were about to change. But there, inside me, nestled next to a comfortable pillow of croissants I was all too pleased to provide for her, was a baby who would have a face and a life and a signature and would need a name.
Oh, the doubt of selecting a baby’s name. What was popular in the year of my birth may not be the best idea (my apologies to the masses of Jennifers and Kimberlys scrabbling for uniqueness by attaching the first initial of their last name in my elementary school classes.) And what was popular in the year of my grandmother’s birth may also not be the best idea (with very few exceptions, sorry Agnes and Wilhelmina and Brunhilda, but no. Most very likely, no.) This name must fit that wee little croissant-nourished one from birth until the assisted living door decades down the line. The pressure, the doubt is great.
This town in Provence broke through our doubt on one of the compass-spoke streets. “Isabelle et Olivier” scrawled in Provencal-blue letters on the apricot wall of a building, naming a clothing boutique of the type that can only be described if one is able to peer a bit frostily down a nose while suggesting a browse. And just like that, with my feet planted on French cobblestones, my skin swaddled in the dry blanket of Provencal air, my mind planning a third trip to the bakery, my daughter had her name.
Yesterday, I heard her name drop from her own lips. From the back seat of the minivan, where her body is not only big enough to displace my clothes but an actual seat belt in a car, she casually rattled off her name in the midst of a story about Very Important first grade things: the spelling test, fish sticks, jump rope, apples, journal of the day, Isabelle, art class, Shopkins. I was listening to all of it, but what struck me was the certainty with which she is stuck with a name I selected for her out of months of doubt over how I could possibly divine and then name the most cherished, important future I could imagine.
Sometimes we have to push past doubt, and with everything we know to be true today, name and claim tomorrow. It means letting go of the hope of perfection. Despite finding Isabelle’s name in a French village thousands of years old, it turns out that in the year of her birth, a very similar name was the #1 baby name in modern America. So much for avoiding being First Name, Last Initial at some point in her life. Doubt and perfection will rob us everything we hold dear today: it will snatch the croissant from our lips and the cherished baby name from our hearts, if we let it. But if we hold fast to truth, push past doubt, and show a willingness to stumble past mistakes to gain a footing in joy, we’ve got something imperfectly precious.
For now, she owns her name. And I own the memories it conjures each time I hear it. This town in Provence, where as an embryo she turned and multiplied and spooled out the unique cords of DNA that have made her Isabelle. This town in Provence, where I one day hope to walk with her and point out my favorite sights, smells, tastes, colors, feels. This town in Provence, where her name waits, scrawled as large and elegant and inviting as the person she is growing to be.
This post is inspired by and shared with the community of writers at Five Minute Friday.