Monday, July 11, 2011

What's in a name?

I thought I'd take a minute to provide a brief history of James Camden Sikes, in the most literal way possible, by explaining how he got his name, the same one we've seen on what seem like a hundred consents and forms at this point.

As last names go, Sikes is undistinguished. The most famous Sikes I can think of are Bill Sikes, the fictional pickpocket abuser and murderer of Dickens' Oliver Twist, Mark Sykes, author of the Sykes-Picot agreement by which England and France divided the middle East into arbitrary regions we're still untangling today, and Wanda Sykes, middling comedienne. It's not exactly what anyone would call a prestigious name. There is no distinction between Sykes and Sikes other than the vowel preference of the first member of that family to write it down. The name is similarly nondescript. It's Yorkish in origin, Sike or Syke means "small stream" or "gutter" so basically any ditch with a current. Adding an s to old English words makes them genitive, so Sikes means "of the stream/ditch/gutter." How very fortunate. James is not more English than anything else either, nor am I. James, like Kara and I, is a mutt. An English-Scotch Irish-Irish-Norwegian-German-Sicilian-Croatian-Mexican-Cherokee American.

Though no one knew it at the time, James and I were both named around 1685, when the first James Sikes came into the world in Norfolk County, Virginia. The details are a bit sketchy, but this James appears to be the very first on record we're likely descended from. A third generation American, he descended from a Sikes who emigrated to Virginia from England around 1635. The earliest Sikes on record who we're likely descended from is a "male" Sikes born around 1590 in England. James had no middle name, as those did not become fashionable outside of the nobility until a century or so later. James, like the rest of his family, farmed nondescript tracts of land on the Virginia/North Carolina border, with members of the family moving indiscriminately between the two colonies. Nothing really set these Sikes, or James, apart. They farmed. They died, and for some strange reason, they named their sons James. Over and over again. One James fought in the Revolutionary War. The family took a break from Jamesing. shortly thereafter Jacob Sikes- probably the son of a James (Jacob is earliest ancestor we can get to with direct evidence- the others are circumstantial) named his son Redden (possible James Redden). Redden moved the family to the Alabama/Georgia border and then disappeared from history, lost to alcohol or some other vice. He also revived the name James.

His son, my great-great-great-great grandfather, James Franklin Sikes, emigrated to Winn Parish, Louisiana around 1850. Until my grandfather's death in 2003, there was always a James Sikes in Winn Parish. James Franklin fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and when he came home he farmed and assumed the role of post master for the small community he lived in. When the post office demanded a name for the community, the citizens offered the name of Crain- a prominent citizen and the father-in law of James Franklin's son, James Warren Sikes- only to be told that a Crain, Louisiana already existed. Stumped, they agreed to call the town Sikes, as that's who the mail went to. Sikes and Winn Parish have more in common with East Texas than the deep south. There are no plantations, just miles and miles of rolling hills, timber, and fine red clay soil. Winn Parish voted against secession in the Civil War because they just didn't see anything in it for them. The town prospered until the turn of the last century, when a fire decimated it and drove most of the residents, including the Sikes family, to the Parish seat, Winnfield. My grandfather, who went by James, was James Edward Sikes. My father is James Edward "Jim" Sikes Jr. and I am James Matthew Sikes. There is no legacy, no inheritance, no illustrious history, just the name.

James is the seventh James Sikes since James Franklin, and likely the tenth or so overall. I was born to name my son James. Growing up, I hated my first name. I never understood why I went by my middle name, and I hated correcting teachers on the first day of school-especially when teachers shortened it Jim in an attempt to be familiar. I always said I'd never name my son James, and end the tradition with me. I wanted to be the last James. If not for my grandfather, I would have done it. A quiet man, my grandfather had a very reassuring presence, a certain formidable spirit that I always respected and loved. We spent hours fishing without saying a word. Family history meant the world to him, he's the one who put together the extensive history I outlined above. More than that, he was someone I always admired and wanted to be- and one I never had the patience to be. And so I decided to call my son James, not for James Franklin, James Warren, or any of the others, but for him. If James George didn't sound ridiculous, I'd have named him after both my grandfathers. I wanted to call him James too, to avoid the middle-first name annoyance. And so I did.

Camden is a much more recent name. Kara summered in England during our college years twice, once in 2004 and once in 2005. For the second trip, she came with me. I'd planned on going most of the year, and when we started dating, Kara decided to go too. We did the Baylor in Oxford program, staying at Christ Church college beneath Christopher Wren's fabulous spire and exploring the country- in many cases with Kara as my guide, as she'd been the year before. We loved it, I for the history and the country, she for the shopping, the shows, and the Tube. When we talked baby names, English names were favorites, particularly place names as we'd loved our time there. For a girl, we liked Kensington, Kensi for short- the neighborhood in London where Kara stayed. For a boy, names were less certain. Camden is a market neighborhood, a bit eclectic, countercultural. I've never actually been, though Kara has. She's more of a shopper. I told Kara she could have the middle name, as I was already taking 2/3 of the naming. We talked about Owen, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Colin, Oliver, Michael even Baylor, our alma mater. James' due date came and went with no decision.

Finally, Kara went into labor a little after midnight on October 29, six days late. The labor did not progress as it was supposed to- James had the cord wrapped around his neck and was sunny side up. We'd planned a natural, epidural free delivery. Kara refused to even listen to the C-section portion of the birthing class. In the end, we were rushed to a C-Section after a quickie epidural. As you can see, from the beginning James has cared little for our plans. James was a beautiful baby with thick, brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. After the delivery in the recovery room, I held the baby up for Kara before I went out to give our family the details and asked Kara "What's his name?" Drugged and bleary eyed, she blinked once and said "James Noah" "Ok" I said "James Noah" She blinked again and looked perplexed. "No, no. James Camden." "All right" I said, "James Camden." And so Jamesie got his name.

I'm not sure what, if anything, to make of those disparate parts. James has no idea and probably could care less about the history of his name or his family. In a strange way though, it gives me comfort as it makes me think of James as part of something larger, part of our family and our past. A glimmer in Kara and I's eyes before we were married or even engaged, and part of a greater history. I have to think that he was born to us, in our family, for a reason. That all of that history, his name, and the rest of it has some greater purpose to help him through this. That he inherits my grandfather's strength and Kara's spontaneity. He'll need both in the future. I hope that he knows his place in all of this, and that he is perfectly loved. No other combination of factors would have or could have produced a James Camden Sikes, and he is our perfect blessing. I look forward to telling him that, and all of this when he is older. I look forward to watching him try to decide what to name his own children, and welcoming them into our family. Above all, I look forward to James writing his own chapter of the story, one his own children and grandchildren can tell.


  1. What a great background story on how James got his name. He will love reading this when he is older. I lived in London for 2 years and my son is named Camden after the market as well! We are praying for James and your family during this very difficult time.

    In Christ,

  2. I love that there is such history behind his name. Precious! Praying for that sweet boy. Will he possibly need blood in the future? I donate blood regularly and if you set up an account or something I can donate in his name. Please let me know if you do or want help setting up a blood drive to benefit him.