The meaning of Shepherd’s name

10 August 2018

Choosing a name for another person has to be one of the most thrilling and also nerve-wracking parts of parenting. Because of this, I love hearing about how others chose their kiddos’ names, and I’m happy to share more about our son’s name today!

As cliche as it sounds, John and I set out to give both of our littles names with roots and wings. By that I mean we hope their names will anchor them to things of value, and aim them toward things worthy of aspiration. For June, we hope her name will remind her of her family story, as well as the beautiful story of America. Shep’s name is also a reminder of his family story, and of our faith.

Before we found out the gender of our first baby, we decided we’d name her June if she was a girl, and John if he was a boy. We stuck to that once we found out about baby number two. To me, naming our son John is a reminder of the story from which he comes – one that’s far from perfect, but filled with people who try, who have integrity, who are kind and smart and humble and face challenges and pick themselves back up again and again. As crystallized for me in this essay, I strongly believe (and research backs up!) that one of the best things we can do for our children is develop a strong family narrative.

From the essay:

“The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness… Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”

You all know how I feel about confidence! :) Naming our son John gives us a ready opening to tell him about the rich history of our family, starting with a contingent of Johns:

His grandfather (John’s Dad), who grew up on a farm in Ohio, earned his Ph.D., traveled the world testifying against counterfeit drugs, and writes the sweetest notes in birthday cards.

His great-grandfather (my grandfather), who served in the Army, milked a farm full of cows at the crack of dawn every morning, raised six children, was married to my grandmother for more than 50 years before his passing, and sang in his church’s choir every Sunday.

His many, many greats-grandfather John Ayer, who in 1665 founded my family’s farm in Connecticut, which is recognized as one of the oldest continuously-working family farms in the state.

And of course, there’s my most beloved John. What gave me great comfort when I thought about having a boy was all of the remarkable men I know and love, the most important being my husband. If our son shares even a few characteristics with him, he’ll be well-poised to take hold of the life that is truly life.

As much as we were settled on naming our son John, we also knew we didn’t want to call him John in daily life. For his middle name, we wanted something that pointed to our faith, and quickly settled on Shepherd. Though we considered many individual figures from the Bible (John’s favorite being Stephen, for his remarkable testimony), none were as compelling as Shepherd, which for us points to some of the most beautiful characteristics of God and his Son. Jesus as the good shepherd is gentle, humble, honored for his obedience, a diligent and hard worker, and a protector.

There are so many stories in the Bible using the imagery or figures of shepherds, but I’ll just touch on one more: the shepherds in the story of Jesus’s birth. How amazing is it that God chose a group of no-stature shepherds to first share the news of his son’s birth, and how beautiful that they responded with great urgency, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” What a powerful prayer for our Shep!

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that both John and Shepherd are classic choices — simple to say and familiar to the tongue — and in the case of Shepherd, not terribly common. Plus, I think June and Shep go together nicely :) Plus plus, I love that I can keep wearing my J necklace in good conscience!

Friends, I’d love to hear: does your name have a story behind it?

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August 10, 2018 8:54 am

I’ve been looking forward to this post! Your snapshots of all of the wonderful Johns in your family are beautiful. I can’t wait to learn what characteristics John Shepherd shares with all of them!

August 10, 2018 9:07 am

What a wonderful legacy Shep has to learn about for many years to come. I imagine all these historical old shoes of different vintages he can periodically put his little feet in and be immersed their story and path they took.

Kelly Strawberry
August 10, 2018 9:25 am

My name “Kelly Elaine” has no meaning other than my parents really liking it. :) The Strawberry story is much more interesting, although I married into that name so it’s not really my story. I actually prefer my maiden name to my married name (Strawberry would not have been my first choice of a new last name, lol!) but knowing the history of the Strawberry family has helped me embrace it. My husband’s grandad was Slovakian. Once we had our son, we were gifted the paperwork where his family’s last name was officially changed from “Jahoda” (meaning berry) to Strawberry. In Czech and Slovakia, jahoda is used solely to refer to strawberrys. :)

Kelly Strawberry
August 10, 2018 9:35 am

That last word of my comment should read “strawberries.” Which reminds me of when we got a wedding gift that said “The Strawberries, est 2012” and I so badly wanted to tell them that the monogram should have read “The Strawberrys, est 2012”

These are the problems you run into when your last name is a fruit, LOL

August 10, 2018 10:33 am

My name is Allison Jean. Allison because my mom wanted a name that was strong and had a playful nickname. Her name is Jana and while it is strong it has no nickname. Jean is a deep family name. It is my grandfather’s name, the middle name of my godmother, and I have an uncle and cousin named Jean as well. Now my daughter and nephew share Jean as their middle names. I feel so deeply connected having this thread of love running across families and generations.

My daughter’s first name is after her late great-grandmother. This grandmother was the epitome of a matriarch. She was a single mother to four children and two heavenly children. She lived a simple life but loved fiercely. She loved the Lord, her family, and others. While these two special women neven got to meet face-to-face, I feel as if they are connected through a bond that will last forever and always.

August 10, 2018 2:18 pm
Reply to  Allison

Beautiful, Allison!

August 10, 2018 1:51 pm

My name is Margaret Anne.
There are lots of Margarets in my family on both sides, but I was named after my mother’s mother specifically.
My grandmother was named after her grandmother, who was named after her mother, who was named after her mother…and so on.
My mother adopted Margaret as a middle name several years ago and with that change, that makes me the 14th generation to have Margaret as a name on my maternal family line.
As for my paternal line, there are definitely plenty of Margarets. My aunt’s name is Margaret and, of course, one of the loveliest cousins I’ve got is named Margaret. I’m sure you know her well :)
It was inevitable that Margaret would be my name…unless I was born on my mom’s dad’s birthday…then it would’ve been Veronica. HA.

And to note- my youngest daughter is named Virginia after my great-grandmother, who was named after her grandmother.

I’m a sucker for tradition.

August 10, 2018 2:18 pm
Reply to  Meghan

I love your Margaret tradition so much :) Strong on all sides of our family!

Mary Kate Graham
August 10, 2018 1:58 pm

I love your “roots and wings” idea! We pulled from family names for our 7 month old son, Pate Davis Graham. “Pate” from my mom’s side of the family, and “Davis” is my mother-in-law’s maiden name. Similar to Shep, we are calling our son “Davis”. We live about four hours away from our families so it is nice to still feel connected that way.

August 10, 2018 4:20 pm

My parent’s named me Laura Cameron. Laura, after Laura Ingalls Wilder. I guess it’s fitting that I count the Little House on the Prairie series as some of my favorite books. But I’m proud to share a name with such a strong woman. And Cameron after my great-grandmother. She had a rather difficult and tragic life, but is another example of a strong woman and I love having that family connection with my name.

It’s tradition in both mine and my husband’s families to give children a family name as a middle name. We named our son Wyatt Walter after my husband’s grandfather, and our daughter, Gemma Mae after my mother-in-law who I never had the honor to meet.

I love that essay you posted and definitely agree. I was proud to be named after my great-grandmother and hope our children will be proud of bother their heritage and names.

August 10, 2018 7:18 pm

I love this! Sweet Shep. I think a boy sharing his Dad’s name (as well as that of so many other great men in your family), is so special. Having two family names myself, I’ve always loved names passed down. “Mattye” is from my Great, Great Aunt and that’s why the spelling is old fashioned. It’s not short for anything either, as people often assume. I still have many notes she wrote to me where she would say “Hello my little Namesake” and they’re some of my most cherished possessions! She was spunky and smart and I love that about her. My middle name “Caroline” is from my grandmother on my Dad’s side. She was frugal and sweet. And while she was not my biological grandmother, I’m so thankful to share such a lovely name with her!

Bethany Howe
August 10, 2018 7:55 pm

My name is Bethany Leigh. Bethany, because my mom liked Brittany but did not like the nickname “Britt,” but “Beth” she could live with. Funnily enough, I HATE being called Beth, ha! She also loved the Biblical meaning behind my name. My middle name comes from my mom’s own middle name, which is the same, but spelled differently – her’s is Lee. She got the spelling for my middle name from actress Vivian Leigh, most known for her role as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, one of my mom’s favorite books (and mine too). :)

I love reading the comments on this post, it’s so interesting to hear the stories behind names!

August 11, 2018 6:33 am

This is so so special my friend – love the name Shep to call him x

August 13, 2018 12:42 pm

I’m late to the post, but love this so much! Names are one of my favorite things! My own full first name (Julianne) is a combo of my parents’ middle names (Julian and Anne), which I just love. Both of our daughters have one family name that also has a strong meaning behind it. And then they both have a second name that reflects a character of God that we hope they will be blessed by and spread in the world. We wanted them to remember that we are all connected, that they are a part of a bigger story, and that their names are a prayer for their lives. Thanks for sharing!

August 13, 2018 4:53 pm

John looks SO happy here. I love this post! And all of you!

August 17, 2018 2:02 pm

I’m just catching up on your blog. Congrats on your little boy! I love his name and meaning, and that you will call him Shep :).
My first name doesn’t have any significance. My mom just liked it. My middle name is Jo, which was my grandfather’s name (Joseph), and my mom’s name is JoAnn. Basically, some form of Joseph has been in my family for over 100 years.
My oldest daughter is named Ella, middle name Jo. Ella was my great-great grandmother’s (my grandfather’s mother)name. My youngest daughter’s first name is Lillie, middle name Noland. Lillie was my great-great grandmother’s (my grandmother’s mother) name. Noland was my moms maiden name. If Lillie were born a boy she would’ve been named Noland. Hope all that makes sense?? My husband and I wanted the tradition of family names. I think they are meaningful.