The many faces of a little reader

He's not a prodigy. He can't read this book yet.  But he loves books and loves to pretend that he's reading them. It's a good start. And he especially loves this one. He's named after a character in it.

Charles Wallace. 

My namesake discovered 42 years later

My daughter’s name is Clara Susan.

Her first name comes from the protagonist in The Van Gogh Café by Cynthia Rylant. My wife loves that book, and it’s where she fell in love with the name for the first time. 

Her middle name was my mother’s first name.


My son’s name is Charles Wallace.

His name comes from the character by the same name in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. We both loved that book as children.

We are also fond of the poet Wallace Stevens, which helped cinch the deal.


My name is Matthew John.

Yesterday I learned that I was named after my father’s platoon leader in Vietnam. According to Dad, my namesake was a man “who was fair and honest, and the kind of guy who never tried to pull rank.”

My middle name was chosen because my parents felt that it went nicely with Matthew.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to learn this. Up until yesterday, I was under the impression that my name was chosen simply because my parents liked it. I had no idea that I had been named after another person. 

It’s a shame that it took me 42 years to learn this fact.

If you’ve been named for a person or even a fictional character, you should probably be told this much earlier in life. Don’t you think?

As with most things, my family does things a little differently.

What’s in a name? Several literary references.

It’s a boy! In case you haven’t heard, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy yesterday named Charles Wallace Dicks.

Charlie was born at 3:09 PM. He is 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 18 inches long.

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We chose Charlie’s name for a number of reasons.

To start, we liked the name Charles a lot. We liked the old feel of the name and the way it seems to match well with his big sister’s name (Clara). I’m also an enormous fan of Charles Dickens (I have three plants in my classroom named Pip, Philip and Pirrip), so the connection to this literary giant didn’t hurt.

We also love the nickname Charlie. My favorite moment during Charlie’s delivery happened just seconds after Charlie was born. With The Byrd’s Turn Turn Turn playing in the background, a nurse asked us what his name was, and Elysha called out, “Charlie!” When I heard her say his name aloud, in what I can only characterize as the most beautiful singsong voice I have ever heard, I knew we had chosen the right one.

It was one of those moments I will never forget.

As for the Wallace, a couple literary thoughts guided our decision.

First, Charles Wallace is the protagonist in Madeleine L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME series, which are books that Elysha and I both adored as children. In fact, I had recently expressed hesitancy in re-reading the books as an adult, in fear that they won’t hold up to my fond memoires of them, but I guess I have no choice now.

Elysha and I are also fans of the poet Wallace Stevens, who lived and worked in Hartford, the city where Charlie was born. We especially love the poem 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and have taught it to our students every year. Every year, I discover new depth hidden within the poem, and I hope I can say the same about my son someday.

Our perfect little boy, Charles “Charlie” Wallace Dicks!

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