When it came to naming our beloved daughter Dessa Marie, Rob and I didn’t want to arbitrarily choose a name that sounded cute or fit a momentary trend. Naming a child is such a monumental task because it is a decision that our little one would always have to live with. As a result, the two of us spent months trying to decide on the perfect name. And since we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, Rob and I had double duty as we sought to select two perfect potential names for our baby.
We’ve received several comments and questions from friends and readers alike inquiring about the story behind our little Dessa’s beautiful name. As many people suspected, there is a story (and some very special women) behind the name, which I am thrilled and honored to share with you today.
When we began the process of selecting our child’s name, Rob and I began the way most couples do: with a book of baby names. We each took turns flipping through the book and marked any name that made an impression on us. After we both had scanned the entire book, I wrote each name that was marked in the book onto sticky notes: pink for girl and blue for boy.
Once we had a pile of papers with possible baby names, we created a visual system to help us narrow down our favorites. We tacked all of the post it notes onto the top section of a cork board in a random order. Then we slowly began filtering through the list of names. Each time one of us wanted to rule out a name, we moved it down to the bottom of the board. We didn’t throw any names away, just in case we changed our minds later on. With time, our favorite names rose to the top, while the names we didn’t love as much sunk to the bottom of the board.
So how did we finally decide on the name Dessa?
I’ve always been close and had a special relationship with my maternal grandmother, Odessa. She often babysat me and went on family vacations with us. When I worked as a bank teller during my summers in college, I would often spend my lunch breaks visiting her and my grandfather.
Later on, as I matured, my grandmother became a bit of a confidant and was someone that I felt comfortable discussing my relationships with. I was the last of my same-age cousins to marry and she was always encouraging me to have faith and eager to know when I had finally found “the one.” It was during this phase of my life that my grandfather passed away and Odessa’s health and mobility became more of a challenge. She had a particularly difficult time during the week of our wedding and we weren’t sure if she was going to be able to attend. I cried tears of joy when I looked over my shoulder during our ceremony and see my grandmother wheeled up to the very first row -- she is just that important to me.
I loved the thought of naming my daughter after my grandmother and had added my grandmother’s name to the list early on. Rob and I went back and forth debating whether it would be a good fit for our daughter. Unfortunately, every time we envisioned naming our daughter “Odessa”, it sounded a little too mature for a sweet little girl.
And then one day, when I was about seven months pregnant, I went to visit my grandmother on my way home from teaching. We sat and chatted about all the usual things: how I was feeling, baby preparations, and the latest scuttlebutt at the assisted living complex where she lives. On that particular day, grandma told me all about a woman working at the center named Dessa. You see, my grandmother’s name is Odessa, but everyone always just calls her Dessa. This was a big event for my grandma because she had never met anyone else with her name before.
She and I kept talking as usual, but I couldn’t get the name Dessa out of my head. I had never considered the name Dessa before. It was the perfect nod to my grandmother, but the name had a softness and sweetness that could be very fitting for an infant, a little girl, or even eventually printed on a wedding invitation. (Yes, I considered every possible instance my little girl’s name would be used and the wedding invitation was huge for me.)
I was instantly sold on the name Dessa, but I wasn’t sure how Rob would feel about it. He was, after all, the one who moved the name Odessa down to the bottom of the board early on. To my surprise and relief, Rob had the same reaction as I did when I suggested naming our daughter Dessa. He tried out the name, let it roll off his tongue, repeated it a few times, and then nodded and agreed that while Odessa wasn’t a good fit, Dessa was certainly worth consideration.
We never did get around to making a Dessa sticky note for the board. Rather, we just moved Odessa up from the bottom and knew that it was a placeholder for the shortened name.
As I neared the end of my pregnancy, we eventually narrowed our list down and selected Dessa as our favorite girl name. Rob and I had agreed to keep our name selections a surprise until after the baby was born and the suspense was killing me. I wanted to have a baby girl so badly just so I could tell my grandma the good news.
I was overjoyed when our little peanut was born and Rob let me know that we had a daughter. We contacted our immediate family and friends and I asked them to please keep the news under wraps until I had a chance to talk to grandma myself. My mom went to visit Odessa and Facetimed with me and baby Dessa at the hospital my grandmother could see her great-granddaughter and learn about her namesake.
A few days after we were released from the hospital, Rob and I took Dessa to meet Odessa for the very first time. The experience was beyond precious and will be one of those sweet moments between my daughter and her beloved great-grandmother that I will always remember and cherish.
Be still my heart. This one is getting framed for sure.
I will always and forever treasure Dessa’s first name and her connection to my grandmother. But that isn’t the only special part of my baby’s name -- her middle name has meaning as well. We didn’t just want our daughter’s name to be significant to me and my side of the family. Rather, we wanted to create a connection to Rob’s family as well. We decided on the middle name of Marie as a nod to Rob’s mother and sister -- who both share a middle name with our little Dessa.
I absolutely love that we selected a first and middle name for our daughter with personal significance to both sides of our family. I love even more that Dessa’s name connects her with strong, passionate women with great love in their hearts. But most of all I love how much those women already love our little Dessa.
And that, my friends, is the story behind our baby girl’s name.