The Women in My Life

I have four daughters. I wish I could say that we chose their names for deep, meaningful reasons like word origin or family history. Nope. We chose names that sounded good to our ears, since we knew we would speak and listen to those particular sounds thousands of times in the coming years. Back in the name-picking season of my life, I wasn’t a writer. I had never been published. If you had asked me, “What do you want to be in your next phase?” I would have said “a writer,” but I had no idea how to get there or even what to write about, yet. 

As I look back now, though, a mystery unfolds in front of me, and it is a striking thing to behold. In my mind, my daughters’ names were chosen strictly for their beauty in the way they dance across the airwaves. But as I have personally moved into this new era—The Writer Era—I have discovered that the names of my children reflect not only beauty, but a deep connection with literature that was apparently under the surface without me even realizing it.  

Juliet Sophia is the name of my first daughter. Is there a greater feminine heroine in all of English literature than Juliet? She loved so deeply that she gave her life for the object of her affection. That’s counter-cultural thinking these days, but not all bad, as long as the “object” is worth it. Many people have given their lives over the centuries for things or people or countries that they loved and believed in. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.* When we chose Juliet, I assumed that over time, the name would become so second-nature to me that it would lose its pizazz, it’s sing-song loveliness. But, not at all! It’s just as pretty now as the night we chose it (the night, in fact, before Juliet entered the world). 

After that, comes my child with the strong French name: Genevieve Elisabeth. Genevieve means “Woman of the People,” which we didn’t know until after she was born, but God clearly knew, because that name fits her like a glove. Elisabeth with an “S” was inspired by Elisabeth Elliot, an author who has made a profound impact on my life because of her missionary years in Ecuador. She became a widow as a young mother in her early 30s. Again, a woman who gave the one she loved most for the One she loved more. Juliet was a character of fiction; Elisabeth, most certainly, was not. 

Evienne Grace is our third girl, and her name was inspired by my husband’s first-grade teacher. That may seem strange, except for the fact that I was a first-grade teacher at one time and if any one of my students ever names a child after me, I will be honored beyond words. My husband’s teacher’s name was Evieanne; a lyrical name offered by the woman who laid the foundation for the rest of Jim’s education. After all, she’s the one who taught him to read

Last is our Daisy Josephine. Daisy because daisies are so cheerful, and Josephine because I will always—for the rest of my days—empathize with Jo March. When Louisa May Alcott wrote the character of Josephine, she was exposing parts of the female soul that may have otherwise remained buried for the rest of time. At first glance, they seem peculiar to that era. But in fact, Alcott peels back layers of feminine nature that don’t expire with the story’s long skirts and antiquated thoughts on female education. There is still an unspoken sisterhood of women who see life from where Jo sits, as she writes her book and grapples with who we are as a sex, what we need, what we want, and where—even now—we fit into our cultures (incidentally, Jo’s niece is named Daisy). 

There is much to be said about how women exist in the world today. Personally, I think much of our struggle is rooted in Eden, but that’s for another column. No matter what you think about Eve and apples and snakes, though, it is undeniable that being a woman is a complex endeavor. As I sit here and type my thoughts and assign my feminine name to them and ask my male editor to publish what I write—knowing he will be glad to do it—I sit spoiled. I have no true appreciation for what the real women who came before me—the Elisabeths and the Louisas and the Evie Annes—had to endure so that my contemplations appear effortlessly in your hands.

Even the women of fiction made things happen in history. There’s a reason Romeo and Juliet has been remade as a movie 34 times, and Little Women has been cinematized six times. The stories never age because Juliet and Josephine never age. Josephine’s honesty about wanting to be strong and independent, coupled with her desire to be loved and not-lonely is stunning. I could read it again and again and it rings fresh with each newly layered season of life. Juliet, with her depth of passion and willingness to pursue love—in contrast with her family’s willingness to pursue hate—is an icon because women love deeply, and tend to live and thrive from that place of self-giving. Nowhere is that more striking than in the throes of childbirth. 

So, as it turns out, the volumes I’ve read have saturated my psyche in ways that I never realized, ways I never appreciated, until I found myself  listening to those names dance through the air of our home, over and over. Women, both real and fictional, have impacted me in ways I hope they will impact my daughters. 

I hope that my daughters will love something more than they love themselves (and, because I’m a mother, I pray they won’t have to die for it). I hope that my daughters will love God the most, and that their love for him will compel them to live lives of service to others. I hope that my daughters will use truth to impart knowledge and wisdom to those who will come after them. And I hope that my daughters will embody the strength, smarts, and spunk to be completely honest with themselves, with those they love, and with God, who gave Someone he loved for them. 

Lastly, I hope my girls will read, because reading makes us who we are, even when we aren’t looking. As a mother, I am thrilled for the help. 

As a writer, I am humbled by the charge. 

*John 15:13

Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine, and now writes a column for The Daily Memphian.

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