oh! susanna.

In picking out names for our child, we discovered that we had an easier time finding names for boys than for girls. We had two boys names that we really liked, plus there were half a dozen others that I thought of at some point and then made myself forget because we already had a boy's name. But for girls, the only thing we ever liked at all was Susanna.

This was not for lack of trying. My favored method of finding names was to go through lists on Wikipedia, like names of queens or minor Biblical characters or saints. Once I found a name that was okay, I'd run it past Josh. If he did not reject it outright, we would research it together, finding out about people past and present who bore that name. Sometimes this eliminated a name from the running, and sometimes it would sell the name for us. But we never found anything better than Susanna. I like that it's a name that people are familiar with, but it's not particularly common.

Susanna is from the Hebrew Shoshannah, which means "lily." There are two Susannas in the Bible, one of which was a disciple of Jesus mentioned in the book of Luke. There's also a saint, who was martyred in the third century and has a lovely church named after her in Rome. Finally, Susannah Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism.

There is an apocryphal chapter in the Book of Daniel called "Susanna and the Elders", which tells the story of the beautiful and virtuous Susanna. She was bathing in her garden when a couple of elders peeked in. Later, they threatened to tell everyone she was meeting a lover unless she has sex with them. Susanna refuses, and when they follow through on their threat, she's about to be put to death for promiscuity. Our hero, Daniel, comes along and proves that the elders are lying by interviewing them separately.

There are many paintings of this story, probably because it was a way to paint a naked lady and say you were just painting a Bible story. You can find a huge gallery of paintings of Susanna here. Warning: you will get tired of pictures of old dudes leering at naked ladies.

Then of course, there is the minstrel song by Stephen Foster, "Oh! Susanna." Previously, no American song had sold more than 5,000 copies, but this one sold over 100,000, allowing Foster to become the first songwriter to live off his songs in the nation. I didn't realize how appropriate the song was until one day I was pacing the floor with my daughter, singing "don't you cry for me" over and over.

Josh asked at one point if we could call her "Zuzu." I scoffed at this idea. While Zuzu is admittedly the most adorable name for a little girl ever, it is clearly not a real name and just something that Frank Capra made up. But I looked it up anyway, and it turns out that it is a nickname for Zuzana, which is the Slovak version. Yes, yes, we can call her Zuzu. People respond differently to her nickname, but it's always pretty fun to hear an older person say such a silly little word. Relatively few people say anything about It's a Wonderful Life, which makes me think that people are not watching enough feel good movies at Christmastime.

It's a little weird giving a new person their name. While pregnant, I had no doubts about the name, but when she was born, it didn't seem to fit. I think that was a problem of her being kind of a blob. I caught myself referring to her as the name of a friend's kid a couple of times, and Josh and I both called her "Puppypants" at least once. As time has gone on, though, she becomes more and more Susanna. Maybe she didn't seem like a Zuzu because we didn't actually know what a Zuzu was. We know now.

No comments: