A little over three years ago, I unknowingly started a tradition of writing letters to my children as they arrived in this world. First was your older brother, Owen. Next came your sister, Aimée. Now it is your turn.
You’ll find that your father is kind of like this. He is a sentimental creature. It is just who he is.
To your brother, I wrote of family. He was born shortly after my own father passed away, when I was living through a lot of guilt at having missed the end of his life, and was experiencing a renewed desire to prioritize family.
To your sister, I wrote of uncertainty, and opportunity. The world she was being born into was experiencing decline and division, I said, and she must rise to the challenges, and confront them with a ferocious spirit.
As it turns out, you are scheduled to be born on March 8, which is celebrated as International Women’s Day all over the world. The day, first celebrated on Feb. 28, 1909 in New York, is meant to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The world needs strong women right now. Strong men too, of course, but strong women especially.
I have very little doubt you will be one. That is why, after months of debate, your mother and I ultimately decided to name you for several women from my own family, who were themselves named for influential women from history.
Your name will be Madlyn Geneviève Gagnon.
Madlyn is a modern, admittedly Americanized spelling of Madeline, which is in turn the English spelling of the Old French name Madeleine.
Madeleine is a family name that is peppered through your French-Canadian ancestry, which has been chosen often to honor the Catholic saint Mary Magdalene. Madeleine is simply a different form of Magdalene, the name that was given to Mary of Magdala.
Mary Magdalene, you will learn, came from a small village on the Sea of Galilee. The name of the town, Magdala, originates from the Aramaic word Maghdela, meaning “tower,” which is why some people claim your name means “high tower.”
The honor truly belongs to Mary Magdalene, though, who became an essential part of Jesus’s ministry, having been healed of demons by him, traveling with him and ultimately witnessing his crucifixion and resurrection. Interestingly, the four Gospels mention her name 12 times, which is more than most of the apostles were mentioned.
Indeed, according to the New Testament, she was the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection, and the first person sent to tell others of the resurrected Jesus, making her one of the most important figures in the Christian faith.
One of history’s most iconic and important women. Not a bad start.
Geneviève, your middle name, also happens to be a family name which appears even more frequently than Madeleine. And with good reason.
Geneviève is another saint in the Catholic Church, and serves as the patron saint of the city of Paris. Born a peasant, at the age of 15 she became a nun, eventually moving to Paris. She was said to have become renowned for her piety and devotion to charity, but faced opposition and criticism.
She claimed to have had many visions and prophecies, for which her critics attempted to drown her in a lake. She was saved from her enemies, and ultimately appointed to a position of authority by the Bishop of Paris.
When Attila the Hun threatened to attack Paris in 451 A.D., Geneviève managed to convince the terrified citizens of Paris that they should not abandon the city and run, but instead pray. Attila’s army ultimately spared Paris.
Later, during a siege blockade of Paris 13 years later, Geneviève slipped through the siege lines in a boat, smuggling in grain for the people of the city. She then personally petitioned the attacker, Childeric, regarding the care of men held as prisoners of war, and is credited with the clemency shown to Paris by Childeric and his son Clovis, who would unite the Franks of Gaul into a single Kingdom, ultimately becoming France.
In other words, she was a woman of deep faith and devotion, unrivaled bravery, a fierce advocate for her people, a diplomat, and a contemporary who influenced the kings that founded the country our ancestors came from.
The world needs the things these women represented. Hope, redemption, faith, trust, unyielding tenacity, and beyond anything else a burning desire to make things around them better.
Big shoes to fill, but I have absolutely no doubt you’ll live up to them.
I can’t wait to meet you, and watch as you grow into a woman who will change the world.