What’s in a name?

Tracing our families’ footprints of faith


by David VogelBaby names

When my wife, Hanna, and I found out we were going to have a baby girl, one decision was already made: her name.

Hanna had selected the name Claire for her first daughter years ago. It’s a nod to Hanna’s favorite song, “Clair de lune,” the lullaby-like movement of Claude Debussy’s Suite bergamasque.

First name chosen, the next obvious task was selecting a middle. We landed on Elizabeth. It’s an elegant compliment to Claire, the three syllables flowing nicely between the two beats of Vogel and her monosyllabic given name.

“Claire Elizabeth” had a touch of class to it and promised to roll off the tongue quickly when we caught her coloring the walls or attempting to ride the cat. There was no deeper meaning than that.

So we thought.

The day after Claire was born, two revelations were made: Claire’s great-great-great-grandmother on my mom’s side was Elizabeth Klassen Just of Fairview, Okla., and Claire’s great-great-grandmother on my dad’s side was Elizabeth Klaassen Voth of Mountain Lake, Minn.

A middle name that was chosen mostly for vanity instead bestowed upon Claire a heritage stretching down two branches of her family tree.

As inspiring as that discovery was, there’s another legacy that I hope Hanna and I leave to her: our witness.

Steve Green recorded a song in the 1980s called “Find Us Faithful.” I’ve performed it several times, and recently the lyrics have become more meaningful to me: “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey.”

It’s one thing to leave a child with the near-tangible gift of their genealogy, but how much more exciting is it to give them a trust and love of Christ that extends deeper than the roots of the family tree?

Hebrews 12:1-2a says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

The phrase “a great cloud of witnesses” creates such an inspiring image for me. Every disciple of Christ going back two centuries has played a role in leading each of us to where we are. And eventually we’ll join that host, guiding others into the future.

The last verse of “Find Us Faithful” describes the hope that a child, while sifting through belongings and memories left by a parent, will find the light that leads them down the road to Christ. That verse used to make me think about my parents lining the road for me. But now I see it from the other perspective, watching Claire walk that path.

I pray that Claire will be guided through life by an almost-visible cloud of witnesses made of the memory of the testimonies left by me, Hanna, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Both Elizabeths will be in there too.


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