What’s in a name? The Feast of the Annunciation
I often write about my life, my children, and things that are relevant to me because that’s what I know. I know that God is love because He has shown me love through my life, so what better way to honor him and share the Gospel than through my own words and actions. Well, today, I’d like to write about a someone that is kind of close to my heart, and why her name is so very important to me. This is the story of my sweet, wild Evangeline.
I’ll start at the beginning, or as close to it as I can get. I’ll start nine months before the birth of Christ when the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and told her that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Every year on March 25 we celebrate this Feast of the Annunciation. From a respect-life standpoint, this marks the actual incarnation of Jesus because it is precisely the moment he was conceived. We have celebrated this feast day since the 5th century, and today it is classified as a Marian feast day and a solemnity. A solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank, which celebrates a mystery of our faith such as the Most Holy Trinity, a life event of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, or another important saint.
On this day we celebrate God’s action in entering the human world as Jesus Christ, in order to save humanity. And we also celebrate humanity’s willingness to accept God’s actions by Mary’s freely given acceptance of the task of being the Theotokos, or God-bearer. We have liturgical texts such as the Ave Maria, the Angelus, and the Magnificat. Mary is seen as a woman who makes a free choice to accept God’s task for her, which she had the free will to refuse. Her acceptance of this role of a servant to God is not demeaning or submissive, but an indication of her cooperation with God and her faith in Him. He could not carry out his plan of salvation without her. (The story of the Annunciation can be found in Luke 1:26-38.)
So, you may be asking yourself where little Evangeline comes into the picture, or why her name is so important to me. Well, I’m going to tell you.
The fall of 2011 held a lot of promise for me. I had turned 30 earlier that year and was about to graduate from college after going back to school as an adult student at UNCG. And after having three children (all that I ever wanted to “complete” my family), I worked my tail off and lost about 50 pounds over the course of the year prior. I was so proud of myself for all of my accomplishments and so excited about all that was to come. Well, God had other plans for me – as is usually the case with my life. When I think I know what path I’m supposed to take, God places another fork in the road. Or sometimes, a downed tree. A week before my graduation in December of that year I found out I was pregnant again. I began having all the usual symptoms and suspected it a little earlier, but I put off taking a pregnancy test because I didn’t want another child and I knew that once I saw the positive test that there was no denying what was happening.
A few months later we were picking out names and we had narrowed it down to a few final contenders for our second daughter. We settled on Evangeline. Being an English major, I chose the name because of the literary significance it held. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a beautiful, epic poem titled Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie. It’s about an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love, Gabriel. If you’d like a small taste of the poem’s beauty, read Longfellow’s elegant description of Evangeline:
Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers. Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the wayside, Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of her tresses! Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows. When in the harvest heat she bore to the reapers at noontide Flagons of home-brewed ale, ah! fair in sooth was the maiden, Fairer was she when, on Sunday morn, while the bell from its turret Sprinkled with holy sounds the air, as the priest with his hyssop Sprinkles the congregation, and scatters blessings upon them, Down the long street she passed, with her chaplet of beads and her missal, Wearing her Norman cap and her kirtle of blue, and the ear-rings, Brought in the olden time from France, and since, as an heirloom, Handed down from mother to child, through long generations. But a celestial brightness—a more ethereal beauty— Shone on her face and encircled her form, when, after confession, Homeward serenely she walked with God's benediction upon her. When she had passed, it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music.
Now, many of you know that I had a “yes” in my life about 8 years prior to Eve’s arrival when my son Isaac came along. However, this “yes” felt bigger in so many ways. It wasn’t necessarily a yes to having another baby, but a yes to a plan for my life that I didn’t see coming. I wanted to work, I wanted to teach. I had a graduate assistantship and scholarship awarded to me for graduate school that I had to turn down in order to raise another baby. But, when that perfect little Evangeline came into this world, her name echoed in my mind and I rolled it around and around for months afterwards. Not only is her name the title of one of my favorite literary works, but it also means something very, very special.
Evangeline is the diminutive of the Latin “evangelium,” which means “gospel” or “good news.” We often speak of the Gospels as the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, Evangeline, it seemed, was an appropriate name for the very best of surprises. And she has been a good surprise in all of the important ways. She has colored my life and the lives of everyone else in our family in a way that no one else could. Her wit and attentiveness to detail are incredible, and her personality is larger than life. When she called me last night to tell me, “Mama, you have something in your eye,” I was surprised and wondered what it could possibly be. Apparently, it was a “bigg-a pizza pie … and that’s Amore!” As she sweetly sung to me over the phone, I couldn’t help but feel fulfilled and grateful to God for a bit of Good News that I never knew I needed in my life. But wait … it gets even better!
Fast forward to the spring of 2015. Eve was two and a half years old and I was in my first year of teaching at Bishop McGuinness. I was on a field trip with the senior class to different religious establishments as part of their religion curriculum. We visited a Jewish temple and a Greek Orthodox church. It was at the Greek Orthodox church that I learned about the importance of “name days” in the Greek culture. I knew a little bit about it because I have a half-sister, Anna, that is married to a man named Dimitri, from Greece, and they have two sons named Michael and Panagiotis. Anna was always posting on Facebook about name days and I didn’t give it much thought. But after this visit, I looked into it a little bit more. We just celebrated the feast of St. Joseph – the “name day” of my Joey. And today, we celebrate the name day of my Evangeline. Why? Because it’s the Annunciation, the day that the Angel Gabriel brought the Good News to Mary, and the day that we celebrate the Evangelium, the Good News and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
To put a little bit of icing on the cake, just last week my son and I were working together on his Family History Project for his junior US History class at Bishop. Part of the project was a family tree and another component was to dive into the meaning of family names. We had to choose five names in the family to research and talk about their meaning. My mother’s maiden name is DeNunzio. Her father was Leonard DeNunzio. When his family came to the United States from Foggia, Vieste, Italy, the name D’Annunzio was anglicized to DeNunzio. But Joey and I discovered that this name, a name that I have said and used a thousand times, is the Italian patronymic form of Annunziato. And the phrase “del annunziata” means … guess what? It means, “of the Annunciation.”
So, there is your small family history lesson about my youngest daughter and the maternal side of my family tree. I’m not sure exactly how often you have talked about the names in your family or the importance of why they were chosen – or maybe even changed. But take some time to look into it. Educate yourself and your children about it, because you might just discover some interesting facts of your own.
And today, on this Solemnity of the Annunciation, let’s celebrate the Good News that we all have coming in just over a week – the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Look to Mary as an example and say “yes” to those critical moments that God places in front of you. Take a chance on God and what He has in store for you, because it just might be bigger, better, and more Good News than you ever imagined.