Back in 2007, Jesse and I were getting ready to leave for the Peace Corps. I had just found out my Granny was sick, and dying. My Granny was Jean West McHugh. We made the decision that should we ever have a daughter, we’d use West as her middle name. A friend joked that if we named her an A name, her initials would be AWW, that that would be very cute. So I decided that my daughter would be Amelia West Williams.
Then I read The History of Love. And Amelia got really popular. And there was a character in The History of Love named Alma. And I changed my mind.
Then we moved to Azerbaijan and learned that alma means apple. And I changed my mind even more.
So Alma was the perfect name. And West was the perfect middle name.
The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma… Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone’s hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted – wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don’t look at me. If you don’t, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss is a lovely book. Alma is a main character, and also all the characters. You can read more about her here.
Alma also means soul, nurturing, and of course apple.
It suits our girl. She loves to say it. It’s unique, but still a name. It is short, and sweet, and sounds good. It feels good to say, the sounds sort of softly mix in your mouth.
I should perhaps explain that we pronounce it with the A’s sounding the same – the a is pronounced as in ‘all,’ ‘almost,’ or ‘Azerbaijan.’. Ahhhhlmahhh.
My grandmother (my mom’s mom) was always a special lady to me. She taught me many things about art, culture, the world, humor, confidence, family, and toughness.
She was born to Oswald and Mabel West. Oswald West was a man ahead of his time. He was Oregon’s 14th governor, from 1911 until 1915. During his time in office he passed laws that gave women the right to vote, end capitol punishment and made Oregon’s coast public land. He also passed prohibition laws, but let’s not hold that against him.
Oswald West had the foresight to make the beaches part of the Oregon highway system, thus ensuring that no one could ever privately own the beaches. Oswald West State Park is named for him. It is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Oregon coast and one of the most beautiful parks in Oregon.
My mom loved him as her grandfather. She called him Go-Go because he would always take her on walks around his Portland neighborhood and down the street to the park. When he died in 1960, the Oregon Journal wrote of him, “perhaps no one in the state’s history leaves a more lasting impression on it than West.”
We gave Alma the middle name West to honor both her great-grandmother and how much she meant to me, and her great-great-grandfather. They left legacies for us as a family, and for the whole state of Oregon.
That’s our girl. Full of spirit, history, and love. Alma West.