When I was sixteen years old, two Zambian orphan baby boys were placed in my arms, and I was told to name them. I asked if they needed first and middle names and was told only first names would be requisite. Without much hesitation I christened them with two of my favorite boy names at the time: North and Newton. I had no thought of the Kansas town at the time. North was a compass point and had a strong, virile Norse association for me. Newton made me think of a brilliant physicist and health-sustaining apples. So, if the LORD has sustained them, there are two nine-year-old boys growing up on the dusty Zambian plain north of Lusaka. I wonder every now and then whether they have heard the story of their Christening by the gangly, pale American youth, and if they wonder about me like I wonder about them.
Well last Tuesday I drove to North Newton (the town) and ran on the Bethel track for a workout, reliving my track days, sans the hurdles. It was sunny, not too windy and not too warm. I ran a couple miles and a couple sets of stairs and headed home. As I drove home, windows down, on I-135 I thought of North and Newton, the only two people to whom I have given names—except my wife, and that was more of a legal, covenantal gesture than a creative one.
The ill-fated Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” And, where I Romeo listening below her balcony I would have responded, “Forsooth, quite a bit, Juliet. Just readith thou the Bible. God set great import on the name he gavest his son, Jesus. God didst change Abram’s name. Saul was transformed to Paul, following his vexing encounter with the risen Christ. Ah me! What’s in a name? All, my dear. Now, make haste. Get thee back to bed. I am no good for thee. Alas, it would not end well. Wherefore art thou tarrying? Fly! And do thou avoid all apothecaries and Montagues.”
So I hope North and Newton are healthy, happy and well-fed, spiritually as well as physically. The town for which I accidently named them seems to be thriving, and I can only hope they are too.
R. Eric Tippin
in The Study on 8th Street
May 30, 2013