I asked my mother once why they named me Gowdy and she replied, quite simply, “Because we thought you’d be different.” Named for my great-grandfather’s surname, I did not like it growing up. But after finding out the why, I embraced it. Since then, my name has mattered to me.
This is how it should have been from the beginning, and I just needed to grow up some. Names have mattered throughout human history to all types of cultures and even in the Bible. Because of this, when it came time to name my first child, a son, I had a few criteria in mind.
First, I wanted him to be named for someone or someones who made a difference either to my wife and me or within human history. Notably Christian history. Secondly, I really wanted a name that was different. No doubt the love I have for my own unique name drives this. Names like John and Stephen are solid names, but I wanted something a little more out of the common way.
My wife had her own criteria and coming together to discuss it, we had a bit of a time agreeing for a while. She didn’t like the name I really wanted but slowly conceded it as a middle name. The first name took a while. Her opinion was going to weigh heavier since she gave me the middle name but she wanted something I still liked.
So after several months and few mind changes, we settled on Liam Erasmus. This name, especially the middle one, tends to have people ask about its origin. Hence, this article.
The first name is pretty simple. It is a name we both liked and while popular in America, it is not a name many people we know have used. Her grandfather, whom I’ve gotten to be close to over the last five years, is named William. So it is to honor him as well.
The middle name is from a Dutch Christian man that lived 500 years ago, who has fascinated me for a long time. His full name was Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, and when I was at Bible College earlier nearly 20 years ago, he was frequently a topic of conversation between me and my friends Brett, Kiley, and Charles. Erasmus was a brilliant man and was well read and well learned in arts, languages, literature and other Renaissance type areas of knowledge. He reminded me of people like Daniel and Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (also of the book of Daniel), of whom it is written: “These four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.” The crowning jewel of Erasmus’s labor in this realm is his published Greek New Testament, which has had an impact in Bible translations and Bible reading for five centuries, even into the English speaking world. If you know and love the King James Version Bible or have heard the phrase Textus Receptus, you owe a debt to Erasmus.
Beyond this I deeply appreciate how Erasmus, a Catholic, walked a middle road between theological extremes of his day, pushing back against misdeeds in his church without abandoning it to join the Reformers. Even though I side theologically with the Reformation. He seemed to believe you can change an organism from the inside out if you put up with some of its bigger issues without ignoring them. That can be wise and it requires maturity.
He also championed free will over predestination and debated Luther about it. Having read that debate, I love Erasmus’s thinking and many of his conclusions.
I do not want to live vicariously through my son Liam but I also hope that by giving him the name Erasmus, he grows up to appreciate who his namesake was and what he did. I hope Liam takes to languages, not just Spanish and Mandarin, but also Greek and Latin. I hope he loves classic literature like Moby Dick and The Lord of the Rings (he will love Harry Potter, a modern classic, if I have anything to say about it). I hope he is willing make two extremes angry on many issues by trying to find the nuanced middle and by trying to change things from the inside out instead of running for greener pastures. (Though I hasten to add that sometimes leaving a church, group or movement may be necessary for some.)
I know very little about parenting. The journey is just beginning. But I know that names matter. That is why my wife and I took so long to decide on our son’s name and why we named him after two men who have had deep impact into our lives.