Resource Center

Naming a Son for a Brother Who Died Young

The doctor pressed the ultrasound wand to my swollen belly and grinned. “Do you want to know the baby’s sex?” My husband and I nodded. At 42, I should have just been thankful to be pregnant. Yet, I lay on the examining table and hoped. Let our baby be a boy.

For years, I knew exactly what I would name my first son: Kevin, in memory of my brother, who died in a car accident at age 23. My son would carry the name of my big brother and best friend, a young man who had the gift of gab, empathy, and joy of life.

“You are about to become parents of a boy,” the doctor pronounced as he stared at a screen shot of our baby, whose head looked huge compared to faint outlines of the rest of his body. I wiped away tears. Pavlik, who I had wed the previous year, smiled and squeezed my hand.

But I had chosen the perfect name for our baby in private, conveniently forgetting that one parent does not pick the name. Both parents do. To me, it was predestined that if I had a son, he would be named after my brother. More than a decade after Kevin’s death, a first cousin called me to ask what I would think if he and his wife named their son “Alexander Kevin.” Elated, I said I would have been thrilled if Kevin was the first name. My cousin said the privilege of naming a son after Kevin was mine alone.

After the doctor told us about our baby’s gender, Pavlik suggested that I gauge my parents’ reaction about my name choice. I took Pavlik’s lack of protest as tacit approval of the name. I called my parents. Mom, her voice cracking, said she could not handle calling her grandson Kevin. My father at first embraced the idea, then called back and said it was unwise because it would be too tough on me and them. Try to imagine, he said, what it might feel like to say my brother’s name every time I called out to my son.

The first three years after Kevin’s death, it hurt to mention his name. But now, I could speak more easily about him. I thought more about his carefree spirit than his death, caused when he apparently fell asleep at the wheel and his jeep toppled down a cliff in Utah. My brother’s name should be a gift to bestow on my son.

Pavlik, though, soon made it clear that he thought giving our son such an emotionally charged name could be a burden. He wondered what Jewish tradition suggested. I consulted our rabbi. Tradition was to give Hebrew names in memory of the deceased. I didn’t even know my brother’s Hebrew name. I was focused on the name I treasured. “My brother Kevin was so full of life that I can’t imagine it being a bad thing to pass along his name,” I emailed the rabbi. He surprised me with his response: “Kevin is so strong for you that, as a Mom, I’m not sure you want to overlay the power of your child with your brother’s name, particularly in English.”

Still torn, I gave up Kevin as a first name, and Pavlik and I took began proposing names on the kitchen eraser board. We added, erased. Jason sounded great until we found it on a greatest hits list of names. Benjamin was taken by two young relatives. Finally, we picked Simon. Then I added a middle name: “Kevin.” Pavlik conceded.

Simon Kevin is now 4. Relatives sometimes ask why we did not use Kevin as the first name. Part of me wants to blurt that I lost the naming battle. But I refrain because my husband, the rabbi, and my parents were right. A few months after Simon’s birth, I went to temple to mark the 22nd anniversary of Kevin’s death. Pavlik, holding Simon, sat next to me. When the rabbi read off my brother’s name, my family of three stood, and I sobbed as Pavlik rubbed my back. As much as thinking of my brother makes me smile, there are still times when remembering Kevin reopens that old hole in my gut. What mother would want to give her child such an albatross? The name we picked fits our son who loves to sing. Simon comes from a Hebrew word meaning to hear, or to listen. When we chose his name, I did both.