Fighting for a Name

by Odi Welter

She was born in a snowstorm in the middle of May, and she did not have a name for seven days.

On the first day, a nurse told her parents that she needed a name so they had something to put on the death certificate.

“She’s not dead,” her father said, looking up with a mixture of anger and bewilderment.

Her mother gently pried herself free of his embrace and faced the nurse. “No,” she said. “I won’t give her a name because I expect her to die. She will have a name when she lives or dies, not before.”

So they did not give her a name. They let her fight for one.

Many took it upon themselves to question, critique, and offer advice.

“What do you call her if she doesn’t have a name?”

“Isn’t it cruel to leave her nameless?”

“A baby needs a name.”

“What kind of parents are you?”

“You have to call her something.”

“What are you going to put on the tombstone? Nothing?”

“She needs a name.”

Her parents replied simply, “We’ll give her a name when she’s ready for one.” They watched over her as the doctors opened her up, rearranged her insides, and sealed her shut again. They held her tiny hand in their giant ones through gloves in holes in her small, clear box. They wished they could snip away the wires growing from her like some science fiction creature. They whispered that they loved her and she was so brave and strong through the beeping of the monitors. They melted at every noise she made, holding their breath until she made another. They told her they were proud of her no matter how her fight ended. They left the unfinished birth certificate on their makeshift bedside table. They promised her a name when she was ready.

There were moments they thought they really would have to name her for a tombstone. The doctors told them she wouldn’t live through the first night. Then the second. The third. The fourth. The fifth. The sixth. They promised the seventh would be her last and begged her parents to give her a name. They refused. “She’s not ready yet,” they said.

Maybe it was desperation, the hope that the desire for a name would help her fight so they could hold her in their arms, that kept them stubborn. Maybe they were right, and she wasn’t ready for a name yet, that she felt she had to earn it one way or another. Maybe it was nothing at all.

She was still fighting on the seventh morning, and she still did not have a name.

“You should prepare yourselves,” the surgeon told them. “This is probably the last night.”

“You’ve said that the last seven nights,” they replied. “We’re not giving up on her until she’s really gone. She’s here now, so we will be too.” They stayed with her through the night.

They held her for the first time in the morning. She was a little thing, frail and breakable, but she was breathing when nearly everyone believed that she wouldn’t be.

“She might make it,” the doctors and nurses whispered amongst themselves, catching hope like a cold. “She might live.”

“For as long as you’re fighting, we’ll be fighting with you,” her mother whispered in her ear.

Her father whispered her name in the other ear. “It means ‘strength’. Do you like it?”

They gave her a name, and they wrote it on her birth certificate when everyone said it would go on a tombstone.

Odi Welter is a queer, neurodivergent author currently studying Film and Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. When not writing, they are indulging in their borderline unhealthy obsessions with fairy tales, marine life, superheroes, and botany.