Last spring, when I was pregnant with Matthew, my co-worker friends, AB and JVB, and I pulled an immature prank (surprising, right?). It was like our own much-watered-down version of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show.
In this context, “catfish” are those in the online dating world who trick unsuspecting persons into falling in love with them by pretending to be someone other than themselves. It’s like when that former Notre Dame Football star, Manti Te’o, fell in love with a fake girl (who was really a guy) on the internet (<= the link’s to a video that’s old, but so, so funny).
But hold judgment – our prank was far more innocent than it sounds, and, from our perspective, it was more of an experiment on human behavior. And, oddly enough, the results of this experiment influenced my decisions with naming Matthew (sort of).
We found out gender early. At just ten weeks pregnant, I did non-invasive prenatal testing (the Panorama test). A nurse drew a couple vials of blood and sent them off to a lab, and, two weeks later, results were in.
The day the nurse called to tell me we had a healthy baby boy on the way (somehow, I always knew he was a boy), looking back, was one of the happiest days of my life. I remember texting Mark and quickly receiving his response – he was over-the-moon excited at the prospect of having his mini-me. And I was overjoyed too, because I’m kind of a tomboy, and, to me, nothing seemed more sweet and awesome than the thought of a mini-Mark.
Looking back on our elation in that moment, now, is extremely difficult – this happiest of days cannot be separated from our eventual trauma and devastation over losing Matthew. And I don’t know if these feelings will ever soften. I hope someday they do.
After learning we had a boy on the way, we started brainstorming names. Ideas for boy names didn’t come easy. I’ve always been more comfortable exercising creativity with girl names. And Mark’s always preferred more traditional boy names anyway. So our options were limited from the start.
Other first names we seriously considered for our eventual Matthew Christopher included Paul, Mark (after Mark), John, Jacob, and Michael, as well as some other classic-ish names over which Mark exerted veto-power, mostly for silly reasons.
We engaged in a process of elimination exercise…
We eliminated Paul after discovering its meaning – “small” or “miniscule”. While I’m not usually super concerned about meanings of names, this seemed ridiculous. I’m almost 6’0”, and Mark’s almost 6’5”, so Paul was probably the most ironic name we possibly could’ve chosen.
We also slashed Mark. Though it’s actually one of my favorite names, we didn’t really want a “junior”. I mean, there are thousands of other names, so did we really have to be so unoriginal? And don’t people need their own identities or something? And, even if we moved past all this, would people think Mark was a narcissist? Or that our family was weirdly patriarchal?
I’m not sure why we rejected John, because there are like three million CEOs named John. It’s oh-so-very-successful sounding and passes the resume test with flying colors. Maybe we just didn’t like it as much.
Jacob, we decided, seemed a bit too common for our liking.
And, as for Michael… This is where the story gets weird. Somehow Michael entered the mix, despite it never really being a contender. I actually think Michael’s a great name, though, great as it is, I didn’t seriously consider it. But others did – they fought for it. Hard.
Of course the Michael drama ensued AFTER we selected Matthew.
Mark and I always liked the name Matthew. And we further researched and learned Matthew meant “gift from God”, and, although we wouldn’t expect everyone to see our Matthew as God’s gift to the universe, we believed he was God’s special gift to us, so it seemed especially meaningful.
We then picked a middle name, Christopher, after me (Christine). This appealed to my feminist side – it seemed right to somehow incorporate my name into our child’s name, because, after all, Matthew would have Mark’s last name, so this seemed only fair.
And Matthew Christopher also seemed extra special because the initials MC mirror Mark and Christine.
Aside from it being kind of a long name to write, it was perfect – we had his name. And we loved it.
Though, we were careful with sharing it. We wanted to reserve the right to change it (just in case). So we pretended to be more uncertain about it than we actually were. And, we figured, if people hated it they might tell us, thinking they could convince us to reconsider. (Most people avoid this potential judgment, but I welcomed it – figured it could be interesting…)
And, as predicted, our pretend-uncertainty gave some the impression Matthew’s name was up for debate. I’ll never forget the day Mark shared our name choice over speaker phone with some of his relatives…
“It’s a boy!” Mark announced.
“Wow! Have you picked a name?” They asked.
“We think we’re going to go with Matthew Christopher…” Mark explained, proudly, yet cautiously.
Long awkward pause.
“Ohhhhh… Well, you have lots of time to think about it. Maybe you should wait to see him before you name him. See if he really looks like a Matthew…”
“They hate the name,” I mouthed to Mark, to which he nodded in agreement.
The next day Mark received a text from one of these relatives…
We thought of the perfect name. How about Michael Jerome after Grandpa Jerry? And you can call him MJ! Like Michael Jordan! Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
As much as Mark loves his late Grandpa Jerry (I never met him, unfortunately), we weren’t the biggest fans of this suggestion, so Mark replied…
Thanks. We’ll think about it…
And from that day forward, until Matthew died, these relatives continued to ask if we’d settled on Michael Jerome, which was awkward. So I eventually explained to someone in the family I couldn’t use Jerome, because the man who committed the armed robbery home invasion against my family during my childhood was named Jerry.
And Michael carried no significant family meaning, so I had no idea where this suggestion came from, but, somehow, I considered it for a while, because it fell into the “classic-ish” boy name category.
Until AB, JVB, and I pulled our prank, which started one day at lunch (of course).
JVB had just returned from an out-of-town conference. She explained on her flight out she met a professional baseball player who was especially friendly and handsome. But when AB and I asked his name, so we could google him, JVB couldn’t tell us. And we were like, “Why didn’t you freaking ask him his name?”
So I joked that JVB should go to WeMetOnAPlane.com (which I heard about from my former personal trainer, who often read me the website’s humorous ads as I worked out) and post an ad with her flight number and a message to this guy, and maybe he’d respond if he felt a connection. And AB and JVB were like, “What the hell is WeMetOnAPlane.com?”
So I explained it’s like Craigslist missed connections, which is an online forum where weirdos go to post messages like, “To the stranger who runs by my house every day, I see you. If you see me, respond to this ad.” (My former personal trainer read me ads from this website too. Sounds awesome, right? It kind of was. Want his number?)
Then AB and JVB and I started pondering whether or not Craigslist missed connections ever result in a marriage proposals. And I found a forum which suggested maybe they don’t, though one guy explained he once posted super vague missed connections ads, just to see who would contact him, and, though he didn’t find a spouse, he found some hook-up opportunities. (I know, sleazy, but according to Jimmy Fallon Pedestrian Interviews, not uncommon.)
So that’s when we decided to conduct our experiment – post a vague ad to see who, if anyone, would respond. So we posted…
Last Thursday evening, on Heavily Traveled Road, you were sitting at the stoplight at the intersection across from the gas station, when we three blondes pulled up alongside. We looked over, and our eyes locked, and we had thoughts of what could maybe be. Just as we were working up the courage to say something, the light turned green, and u pulled out. If u 2 felt a connection, please send us a note ASAP. Talk soon.
We used one of our throw-away email addresses, posted it, and the responses started rolling within ~four seconds. At first, it was all fun and games – the responses were innocent like, “Was I in the white SUV?”
But then, the responses turned less innocent. And my sheltered-but-not-extremely-sheltered self was shocked by them. And pretty soon, AB and JVB’s not-the-least-bit-sheltered selves were also shocked.
So then we shut it all down and removed the ad, because our experiment was officially OVER. (Don’t worry, email addresses for ad-posters remain encrypted until you reply to any messages received, and we never replied, so we’re safe.)
But anyway, like five of the seven-ish respondents were named Michael (sorry to all you wonderful Michaels out there – I’m sure it’s coincidental – Michael’s a common name), which, at least temporarily, diminished any small affinity I had for the name.
So we clung ever-so-tightly to Matthew and never looked back.
But never did we envision officially naming him so soon – on that tragic day in mid-July. We thought we had until at least late August to play our pretend-uncertainty games.
Though we still love the name Matthew Christopher. So much so that after Matthew died, we discussed how, because he died, his beautiful name will be spoken less often than it otherwise would’ve, and this feels like its own mini-tragedy for which we also grieve.
And we put so much care into, and had so much fun with, naming Matthew – I wish we could’ve eventually shared all these crazy stories with him (when he grew older, of course).
So I guess that’s one reason I blog… So I can speak his name as often as I like, and Mark and I and others can read and know Matthew isn’t forgotten.
And I guess I share stories like this so that if Matthew’s looking down, he too can share in them. And laugh at them. Because I bet he would’ve had a good sense of humor.