where martha got her name

We’ve had a lot of people tell us that they really like Martha’s name. I’m not sure whether this is usual and meaningless, but I like to think it’s because Martha Josephine is a good name. It’s not weird, it’s not boring, and it’s classical without being archaic. Quite a few of my friends asked me how we chose it, so I’m giving a little explanation.

Gloria and I made a list of names that we liked, both boy and girl names, some of which we figured would be good middle names, some good first names, and some that could go either way. We eliminated names with vetoes (some names only one of us liked at all) and with consideration of whether they’d stand the test of time or the test of being put together with another name. Some were eliminated just because we decided they were too whimsical. (“Watson” springs to mind.)

I wanted to pick names that were traditional family names (mostly), but to avoid names that were really common in the last generation or two. My father had given me a copy of the entire (gigantic!) family tree, and I got to work looking for common names that I liked. I also picked some names from Gloria’s family, which I knew mostly from meeting people and hearing stories. (If I had known about Gloria’s uncle Quentin, I think that would’ve made the boy’s list!)

Martha was a pretty easy choice… I don’t know if Gloria suggested it first or if I did, or if we both came to the table with it. I was always in favor of it, though. Martha is Gloria’s aunt on her mother’s side. Gloria lived with her for a good spell while we were together. I’ve met her (and her husband) and they’re really great people. Beyond that, Martha and Marta show up a good bit in my family tree – although mostly in relatives only distantly related to me. I think the closest I found was Margret Martha, my first cousin twice removed. (If that sounds really closely related, keep in mind that she was born in 1914.) Well, then again, as long as I’m cheating and going for middle names, my grandmother (and Margret Martha’s sister) is Anneliese Ernestine Marta – but I must admit that I didn’t realize this until quite recently.

Finally, I just like it as a name. It’s not very common (I can’t think of any Martha’s I’ve known) but it’s not an obscure name. It’s sort of old-timey, but it’s not obscure or weird like Hagar or Armor-of-God. We gave names credit for having good nicknames, and I really like Marty as a nickname.

Josephine is much more from my side of the family. I had looked at all the names of my father’s parents’ siblings. His mother’s name was Carmen, which is also the name of my sister and my aunt. Carmen’s siblings were Manuel, Victorina, Dolores, Carlos, and Josephine. I liked Victorina, but knowing that she’d be known as Vicky rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t know why. Maybe it was bad memories of Small Wonder. Dolores is a great name when it is (as it was, of course, with my great aunt), Maria Dolores. After all, naming your daughter after “Our Lady of Suffering” is a tribute. Naming your daughter after suffering itself seems a bit much. Josephine looked really promising.

My Aunt Jo is the youngest of her siblings, and like all of them she’s pretty awesome. I have to admit that my memory of my great aunts and uncles Lagos is limited – many of them died when I was too young to appreciate them, and I’ve always been miserable at keeping in touch with my family – but I think of Aunt Jo (who is still among us!) as being the most mild and generally agreeable. It’s odd to write that, because none of the Lagos siblings were particularly abrasive or argumentative (although Aunt Dee could do a good imitation, if pressed!). Still, I stand by my statement.

Aunt Josephine was (I assume) named after her mother, Josefa. Josefa is the name of another one of my great-grandmothers as well: my father’s father’s mother. I have to admit that the name Josefa just strikes me as a little brutish, like Bertha or Gerta, but it shows up all over the place in the family history. What makes it even more fun is this: my aunt Josephine’s mother Josefa’s father is the original Ricardo Julián Besteiro. (He’s RJBF, which even sounds nice and similar to RJBS.)

We ended up a short list of five or six names for either gender, and didn’t really make any final decision until Martha was born and the midwife started to ask what the name was. It was Martha Josephine.

Written on March 15, 2007
🏷 martha