Saturday, June 12, 2010


In a few short weeks we will celebrate Lenard's first birthday. As I learned with Izabella's first birthday, this is a big deal--for me. Living through the first year of parenthood was a major accomplishment. Yet there is no bullet point under which to designate such on your resume. So there must be a party. With funny hats. Cake that the little one smears around. Cuteness, etc. Izabella's first year was an eternity. Leo's first year has passed in an instant. Still, he survived us. We survived him. Let's party.

As I ponder his yeardom, I realize that I have yet to write about the fact that he is "Lenard." By now calling him Leo is natural and I like the sound of it, "lay-oh." My little summer tomato. I even introduce him proudly as Lenard, "lay-nard," and give a brief explanation about his Hungarian roots. Still I am a bit shocked to think that I have a son, and his name is Lenard. It is a bold choice, the name. I can only hope he will carry it well. For his sake, I will tell the story of his name. It will be perfect fonder for elementary school essays and therapy sessions, perhaps.

Long before Leo, we were at his future Grandmother's apartment in Transylvania looking at birth certificates from ages ago. There are three male names that have been repeated in my husband's family. My husband has two of those names (long story), and his first son has the other. As we sorted through the birth certificates in his mother's collection there was a Lenard among them. I noticed it because my grandfather and one uncle are named Leonard. I remember thinking at that moment that Lenard would be the right name for our future son. If I only dared--both to have a son and to choose that name.

My husband has no recollection of this event. Clarification: He just said that he remembers looking at the certificates, but didn't have an a-ha, Lenard moment about his future son and doesn't remember Lenard among those ancestors.

You would think knowing for something like twenty-three weeks that it was a boy would be enough time to select a name. Not for us. We would leave the hospital with our little one nameless. It took us one week to return and officially designate him Lenard. In the meantime, we decided on Zoltan. I introduced him as Zoltan to our neighbors to practice with the name. Months later neighbors would ask how little Zoltan was faring.

Zoltan? Lenard? Unless you are Hungarian, you must think us terribly eccentric. Zoltan, however, is as common in Hungary as John in America. Perhaps even more common. Whenever my husband mentions that Zoli (the nickname) did or said such and such, the first question is always: Which Zoli? To American ears, on the other hand, Zoltan or Zoli is (methinks) pretty unusual, even cool. I liked that it cannot be translated to an American equivalent. We settled on Zoltan. One morning we rallied the family to get dressed and loaded up carseats to head to the hospital and sign the papers. As we were going out the door, my husband called a halt to the operation. He just couldn't do it. The baby wasn't a Zoli in his eyes.

To be honest the Hungarian male names just aren't that attractive, at least the ones available to us. The ones we liked were quickly off the list for various reasons. Our first list of names as of February 5th, 2010:


Personally, I was at bat for Zsigmond. Baby Ziggy. Ziggs. Zig-zig. (For the record, I also wanted Izabella to be Izadora or Szilvia.)

As you can see, Lenard was on the first list and near the top. Really it was our best option, we just didn't have the courage for it.

As the pregnancy progressed there was another Lenard who made his presence known, my husband's ancestor from the 16th century. My husband uncovered his story while researching material for his new book, BURSTS. He may have a more recent family connection, but for sure our little Lenard's namesake is traced all the way back to Leonardus Barlabasi, the Latin for Lenard Barlabasi. Lenard was second in command ruling a province in Transylvania. Our Leo's Tata discovered that his letters, which survive in the administrative Latin used in that time, provide a window into the everyday life of that time. While he didn't win any battles or discover vitamin C, he was an top administrator and an avid letter writer. Our Leo may be a man of letters yet.

I would also like to include here a side note on the historical quest for Lenard's letter in the State Archives in Nagyszeben, Transylvania that did not make it into my husband's account in his new book. Yes, I was there with him. And as he mentions it was a sweltering summer day. I am not known to be tough as nails. I like air conditioning. I do. So I wilted next to him, my head resting on the table in utter exhaustion as his eyes nearly popped out of his head with excitement as he actually got to handle a letter written by Lenard in 1507. As it turns out, I was actually running a fever of 101 and would go on to develop a horrible racking cough. Not such a big deal, right? Except that I was eleven weeks pregnant with Izabella. Getting sick in Transylvania is no fun for an American. The Romanian hospitals are, well, creepy. I could go on. I could tell you how the doctor had no idea what I had, but that the nurse wrote down a recipe for onion syrup that she swore would clear up the cough. At any rate, I survived. Izabella survived. And Lenard's name survived too.

A final Lenard factor: Leonard Cohen. My husband introduced me to Cohen's music when he first wooed me. (That should tell you a lot.) Cohen was giving a concert in Boston. The tickets sold out quickly. Long story short, mama procured excellent tickets. I put Izabella to bed and left her with our sitter, that was the one and only date date since her birth. Hugely pregnant in a white summer dress I attended my first Leonard Cohen concert. It was brilliant. A gem. Totally worth every cent. And yet another positive Leonard to make us think that our little one could bear the name with pride.

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