The Names

We still hadn't decided on a boy's name when Ginny went into labor. We had picked Alexander as the middle name in case it was a boy, but we didn't think that we wanted to call him Alexander all the time. So we were trying to find a more unique first name--something with some meaning and history--but after looking through a book of 30,000 baby names we still couldn't decide on one. We had thought that Phoenix was a pretty cool name, but decided that we didn't want people to think his name was Felix, so we had given up on the Phoenix idea.

On the last day in the hospital we were told by the nurse that we had to have a name before we left because they had a lot of forms they needed to fill out. By then we had decided that he did seem like an Alexander after all, so we would go ahead and call him that. The trouble was that not many names fit with Alexander as the first name--it generally flowed better as a second name. At the last minute we remembered the Phoenix idea and decided that we could go ahead and make that his first name if we were going to call him Alexander anyway. So, Phoenix Alexander it was, and so it shall remain. Subsequently, however, we have decided that we prefer to call him Phoenix after all!

Phoenix ()

The phoenix was a legendary bird originating in Egyptian mythology. The Egyptian name for the bird was 'bennu.' The Greek 'phoinix' (phoinix) comes from Herodotus' work on Egypt, circa 430 B.C.E. 'Phoenix,' in turn, is the Roman spelling from the Greek. The figure to the right is the hieroglyph of the bennu bird found in the Papyrus of Ani (a copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead). Egyptian texts don't give a very developed tail of the bennu--not even including the consumation by fire. The story was embellished by later writers well into the Common Era until it picked up all of the details with which we are familiar.

The phoenix was a unique bird (there was only one phoenix in existence at any given time) that lived for 400 to 500 years in the Arabian desert. As the end of its life drew near it built a funeral pyre for itself out of herbs and spices. It then lay itself to rest and began to sing a beautiful song. The pyre was then ignited by the sun and bird and nest were consumed in flame. From the ashes a new phoenix was born. The young phoenix, escorted by a throng of birds, would then carry the remains of its parent to Heliopolis, on the Nile, and bury it in the temple of the sun.

The phoenix was always associated with the Sun. The bennu bird was considered to be the soul of Re, the Sun god. (Heliopolis, in fact, means "city of the Sun.") In many ancient texts it is seen accompanying the sun in its trek across the sky. The phoenix has also long been a symbol for resurrection. Some sources associate it with Osiris, the god of resurrection.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word phoenix was used figuratively in Late Middle English (late 14th and early 15th centuries) to mean "A person or thing of unique excellence or of matchless beauty; a paragon."

Alexander ()

Alexander is an ancient Greek name which generally means "defender of humanity." The Greek word alexandros literally means "defending men"--a compound of alexo (, to defend, to ward off) and andros (, man). The root of alexo is ALK, from which Greek words such as alkar (, a safeguard or defense) and alkter (, a defender) were derived.