Turns out it can be a lot – especially if you are the Mother of a third culture kid. All growing up I dreamed of being a missionary. My favorite books to read were either by missionaries or biographies about them. I loved the idea of adventure, living in an exotic place seemed, well…exotic. It seemed so noble and so brave to leave your own culture and bond with and take on another. To give up all that was familiar for the sake of God and the gospel. We call this “romanticizing” and I definitely had a romantic view of missions. I also mainly thought of it as just me, and maybe a husband but didn’t picture how children on the mission field would change life and change what missions looks like.
I could fill many blogs on how children has changed and challenged my view of missions and missionary work. On how it has even threatened my ideals of what I should be in missions because some days I am “just a Mom” and all other ministry takes a back seat. But this post is about names.
We had our first daughter in 2010 while we were serving on a YWAM base in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hawaii is definitely a blend of cultures and there are aspects of life that make you feel like you live abroad a bit but it is still definitely America. Naming our daughter there came quite easily and although we didn’t feel pressed to do so, the name we gave her was Hawaiian.
This pregnancy and our son was different. In 2012 we began transitioning out of our life in Honolulu into a new phase and moving our family toward full-time work in French Polynesia. It took us some time, visa applications, lots of flying and moving to finally settle here but in November 2013 we landed in Tahiti and moved into our little apartment.
About 9 months into our new life here I found out I was pregnant with our second child. This was incredibly welcome news as we had been trying for 4+ years to conceive and had 2 miscarriages along the way (one here in Tahiti the month before I found out I was pregnant). My husband and I are quite different when it comes to naming our children. I have been doing it in my mind (and in lists) since I was 14. David would rather just hear a name in a quiet time. So for a large majority of this pregnancy we didn’t talk about names…at least not seriously. From time to time I would throw one at him in the kitchen while we washed dishes but that was about it. About 2 months before the baby came (we chose not to find out if we were having a boy or a girl) I came across the name Eliana (which means “God has heard and answers”) and shared the name with David. It was an instant hit in both name and meaning (which doesn’t happen for us) so that became our top girl name. We continued to be stuck on a boys name. I think it was just a few weeks before my due date that we decided we should probably really sit, discuss and pray over a name. A week before we had felt in prayer over the baby that God was really speaking peace and joy over our family and over this child. We felt like he or she would be a bringer of peace. So that’s where we started, looking up names that meant “peace” of “joy”. None really stuck out to us…and many of the meanings just fell flat for us. We wanted depth and declaration over our child and nothing was leaping out at us.
My husband really wanted to talk to one of our Tahitian friends here and ask about Tahitian names that meant joy and/or peace. Tahitian is a beautiful language and one thing we love about it is it is so descriptive. In English we have words for everything, in Tahitian you describe something. We went through many names and one that struck us quite quickly and we both loved the meaning was Vaihaunoa (pronounced Vai (rhymes with “hi”) hau (how) noa (Noah) – which means, “To be rooted in the peace of God forever”. One concern of mine with a Tahitian name was that none of our friends or family in the states would be able to pronounce it. I wanted one that was pronounceable but also a name we could shorten into a nickname so that child could chose to give his full name or his nickname. So with Vaihaunoa we had the long version and “Noa” for short. (The name “Noa” means comfort and rest).
We sat down to pray one morning armed with these things – Tahitian names with deep meaning and a few English names that were ok but didn’t strike us in the same way. But almost instantly when we started praying all this stuff in me started coming up that I didn’t realize was there…
- Fear of what people would think if I gave my white son a Tahitian name (both my stateside friends and locals here)
- Would I be setting my son up for success or failure by giving him a cross cultural name
- I have made fun of people and judged people myself for giving their kids “strange” names and now I was “one of them”
- Could I call my son Vaihaunoa or would that name always sound strange on my tongue because it’s not my first language?
I had never thought about what it would be like to have children overseas and consider that they would grow up with their heart in several places and the place they felt most at home may be a place that still felt foreign to me. My son and daughter will most likely feel more at home in Tahiti then anywhere else. And if we do move sooner than we expect this beautiful country is a part of their story and their inheritance.
I gave birth to my son 3 days ago and we named him Vaihaunoa “Noa” Alan Scott Burr. (Quite a mouthful, I know…I pray he can pull it off) ☺ Saying his full name still feels a bit strange to me and at night I sit up and wonder if I made a mistake. But in the stillness of the night with the Lord I am reassured that I have not. I am honored to be the mother of this little boy and raise him here in Tahiti, French Polynesia. I still cannot comprehend the blessing that he has to be embraced so fully by his family in the states and Canada and also by our friends (who are becoming more like family all the time) here in Tahiti. I am so excited to see what is in his future and I know that whether it’s here, or anywhere else in the world giving him a piece of Tahiti forever is a blessing.
This post is NOT a statement that I think anyone who serves overseas should give their child a foreign name….it isn’t about that at all. This process just revealed the things I feared about living cross culturally – the fear that I am not yet understood fully here and then by giving my child a cross-cultural name I won’t be understood by my home culture either. Scary! ☺ But I feel like the Lord is showing me a new way, not just how to do missions for me but how to do missions for my kids. How to shift my mind into realizing that their growing up will not be like mine and that’s ok but it will mean that some decisions I make for my kids might feel slightly strange to me.
My husband has a great perspective on the whole thing (He's a pretty wise guy!) when he says, “In one generation God has taken your family line from Lititz to French Polynesia. Just imagine where He will take us in the next one. What kind of names will our Grand-children have?”