A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet — at least that’s what one Colorado couple is hoping after their disappointment in Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, drove them to legally change their son’s name.
David and Christen Epstein named their baby Atticus after the beloved hero of Lee’s first book, To Kill a Mockingbird. They said the decision was based on their desire to see Atticus’ values and ideals instilled in their son. Now, after Lee’s second book has revealed Atticus to be a closeted racist who once attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, the couple tells People they’ve had a change of heart:
When the book came out, we just felt like, this does not at all encompass the values that we want for our son to have and know . And we felt like our son was young enough that we could change his name.
The couple opted to change their 14-month-old’s name to Lucas and announced the controversial decision to family and friends via a lengthy post on Facebook. Some have been supportive, they say, but many of their loved ones think it’s unnecessary and confusing. Most confused of all is their 3-year-old daughter, Ayala, who still calls her brother Atticus from time to time.
Many fans were just as heartbroken as the Epsteins following the release of Go Set a Watchman. Not only is there some debate as to whether Harper Lee actually consented to release the book, but in it, fans are treated to a version of Atticus Finch that feels downright foreign when you compare him to his honorable, justice-oriented counterpart in To Kill a Mockingbird. It stands to reason that more name changes could happen in the future, as Atticus just started popping up on popular baby name lists for the first time ever.
Of course, we all want our children to have strong, beautiful names with worthy associations, but we have to remember that the name doesn’t make the man (or woman). As much as we might choose names for their meaning, their relation to great people or with the hopes of instilling some sort of desirable traits in our kids, children are very much their own people. They’re going to decide who they are, and whether their name is Atticus or Fred has very little to do with who they’ll ultimately become.
It’s also important to remember that any name could develop a potentially negative association at any time. You could give your child a bold, powerful moniker, and they could end up sharing it with a criminal or a terrorist or a politician whose views you strongly oppose. There’s no way to predict what associations a name will have in the future, and those future associations don’t negate your reasons for choosing a name in the first place.
Atticus Finch might not be the man we thought he was, but all those babies out there named Atticus have yet to decide who they’re going to be. It’s a parent’s prerogative to change a child’s name, but we also have to be practical when considering a name’s importance. The reasons we chose a particular name might not always stand, but the values we instill in our kids will last forever.