"Ha ha," she wrote. "That's a badass middle name."
It just so happens that I, too, have that badass middle name. In fact, I had it first, and I passed it along to my son. My siblings have normal, beautiful middle names: Grace, Elizabeth, and Charles. My daughters have normal middle names too: they were named after their grandmothers Jane and Claire. So how is it, you might ask, that my son and I are the only badasses in the family?
Brewster is an old family name. It's of English origin, going at least as far back as Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, England, where a certain ancestor of ours was born in the sixteenth century. That ancestor's puritanical religious views rubbed the Church of England the wrong way, though, so he and his family left their homeland in search of a more comfortable place to live. They settled first in the Netherlands for a short while, and then, when that didn't work out, they headed for a new place called Massachusetts, where they helped establish a colony of like-minded religious people. There's still a town named after them on Cape Cod. (It's called - you guessed it - Brewster.) And, owing to the fact that his family prospered and multiplied once they arrived in the land of religious freedom, there are Brewster descendants all over the United States. Some of them are fairly well-known, and some of them are just regular folks like us.
I don't know why I got the family name and my siblings didn't. For a long time, I wished it had been otherwise.
My middle name was a source of endless amusement to my peers when I was in grade school. They called me Jennie Rooster and made squawking sounds when I entered the room. All my female classmates had middle names like Marie or Laura or Katherine. Brewster seemed decidedly unfeminine and ugly, and I hated it. I wished, miserably, for a name that better expressed who I was. I was not some old Puritan guy from the sixteenth century. I was a young girl growing up in New Jersey in the twentieth century. I wanted to be like the other girls: pretty and popular, with a moniker that affirmed my prettiness and popularity.
It was only many years later that I realized that my middle name did express who I was - and it did so better than any other name I could have been given. My name has historical significance. It keeps alive a heritage that, owing to our society's habit of passing names through the father's line, could have been lost generations ago. It is a memento of hardship and pilgrimage. It is a reminder that white people of Anglo-Saxon descent were once themselves victims of religious oppression, and that they, above all people, must refuse to perpetuate oppression of any sort against anyone. The name carries with it the responsibility of tolerance, open-mindedness, and conscience.
It's an honor, really, to have been chosen to be the bearer of that name.
I wanted at least one of my children to carry it forward. I have charged my son with that responsibility. He might be a little young to appreciate it just yet...
... but I have no doubt that, in time, he'll live up to his badass name.