We are excited to announce our son’s name: Augustus Grant Murphy. As Ries picked the name out several years ago, we thought he should share where it came from.
There’s something special - perhaps a little strange - about the name “Augustus” in 2017.
People react strongly to it. Some smile knowingly. Others flinch. Some wonder aloud if “Gus” is short for “Angus,” while others yet ask me in an uncertain tone of voice, “You know there was a Roman emperor named Augustus, right?”
Let’s go ahead and start at the beginning. Yes - believe it or not, I did know there was a Roman emperor named Augustus. Augustus Caesar, in fact, was the very first Roman emperor by most accounts. Folks have a bone to pick with the Romans, I think - maybe because they conquered the known world, or maybe because we see too much of our own American foibles in their decadent collapse. I remain unsure - but wanted to get it out there for the record that yes, I have indeed heard of Augustus Caesar.
Naming my son Augustus, however, is no commentary on what I think about Caesar, nor any Caesar, nor the Roman Empire, nor the notion of conquest. This is because, while Caesar is arguably the best known Augustus, Augustus Murphy is not named for the emperor. He is instead named after a character named Augustus McCrae, in a novel called Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.
Yep. You read that right. I named my son after a cowboy.
For those who have read the book or seen the miniseries, they’ll no doubt have their own memories conjured up by the name (Robert Duvall!), now that it’s been properly associated. For me, however, it goes a bit deeper than that. For me, it’s about the meaning of a name in the context of its bestowal: that is, I want my son to learn something from his name every time someone calls on him in class, or scolds him, or whispers sweet nothings to him in some long distant summer’s night.
In Lonesome Dove, Augustus and his friend Call leave Texas behind for the promised land of Montana (Call wants to be a rancher, Augustus wants one more shot at the love of his life, the fiery and wonderful Clara). They endure all sorts of hardships on the way, fighting off bandits, sickness, weather, “Injuns” and of course, that strange sense of Fading which is so pervasive to the Western genre at large. They make it to Montana - which is more than I can say I’ve done.
I named my son after a cowboy who - even in his old age - goes on a reckless adventure in pursuit of love. I named him after someone who’d rather die than live what he perceived a half life. I named him after a character who inspired and baffled me, a character I’ve never forgotten, a character I hope he someday is able to saddle up with, on his own terms. I gave him a name to live up to - and I think it will serve as a good compass, when things grow confusing or gray.
The fact that it’s the name of a Roman Emperor is pretty cool too.