There’s an Echo in My Grandmothers’ Names

It’s a picture I look at every day. One that sits on my bedroom dresser, reminding me that my job as a mother is not unique, and that if generations before me did, I too can get through any challenges I face today. Sometimes, I even think, ‘Perhaps these women are cheering me on.’

Who are they? They are my great grandmothers. Many greats, in fact.

But before we go there, let’s start here.

This is me with my mom, Kathleen, in January.

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Yes. She’s beautiful. In all ways.

Now, here is the photo – of the mothers we share – posed in 1924.

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The little girl is my mother’s mother – Elaine.

Diagonal to the upward right is her mother – Gretchen (my namesake).

The woman standing to the left, wearing glasses, is Gretchen’s mother – Ruth.

Seated, with Elaine on her lap, is Ruth’s mother – Sarah.

Seated on the far right is our matriarch, Sarah’s mother – Nancy.

Is a 5-generation photo like this one rare? Absolutely.

Is it notable that these women would want to document themselves for a future generation? I don’t think so.

I think that if every family’s women could have, they would have.

In fact, if we look closely enough, we find that they did.

In small, almost imperceptible ways, each one of our mothers – the immediate ones and the ones of long ago – have passed along a bit of themselves to each one of us.

My grandmothers each have stories, of course. But there’s not enough room for them here. So, consider with me for a moment, the role of names.

In Biblical times, lineage and names were very important. A name’s meaning was an indication of to whom a person belonged, their character, and calling. Today, the same can be true.

We do not live our lives in a vacuum. The same God who created us and our parents knows our every thought. Wouldn’t it make sense that His hand was in the choosing of our names?

In her book, Becoming Myself, Stasi Eldredge asks,

“Do you know what your given name means? It’s a good idea to find out. And if you don’t like the meaning you initially discover, press in to find out more about it. Ask God to reveal to you why he named you what he did.” (p. 222)

So let’s look my grandmothers’ names:

Nancy means grace.

Sarah means princess.

Ruth means companion or friend, and vision of beauty.

Gretchen is a derivative of Margaret, meaning pearl.

Elaine is a variant of Helen, meaning shining light.

Kathleen means pure.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that each name’s attributes are idealistic and intended to encourage its bearer to aim high.

And isn’t that God’s calling? For us to become like Him? With His support? To ultimately come home to Him?

I am descended from these women – born of each one of them. If I string my grandmothers’ names together – as a lineage banner over me of God’s love – I get a message that looks something like this:

I give you My Grace, dear Princess. Walk with me, be my constant Companion and my Friend, for I long to be yours and you are a Vision of Beauty, like a Pearl surrounded by ugliness. I have made you to be a Shining Light, a sign of my Pure and eternal Love. 

Sound strange?

Check out this echo in Song of Songs where the Groom (God) speaks to the Bride (Us):

You are all-beautiful, my beloved,

and there is no blemish in you.

Come from Lebanon, my bride…

how much more delightful is your love than wine…

You are an enclosed garden…a fountain sealed….

a well of water flowing fresh from Lebanon. 

– Song of Songs 4:7, 8, 10, 12, 15

This Mother’s Day, I looked back at my grandmothers with gratitude for the life and the love they extended to me down through the ages by virtue of their perseverance and hope. The names they gave their children are not only evidence of the desires of their hearts, but also of God’s heart.

Consider your name. Consider your family’s names, and how they whisper to you of Love.

The women in the photo I look at every day are more than just my grandmothers – they are examples of how I know that He loves me.

2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Gretchen! What a unique take on thinking of your grandmothers and making their names into prayer. I am sure they are all watching over you too! Margaret

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