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Via Red Room: The polka dotted history of one author's favorite character name

Hawaii: A Novel
This week Red Room is encouraging authors to blog about favorite character names, and I happen to have a great one, so I thought I'd cross post.

The summer I was twelve, I went through a serious Michener phase, and my favorite book by far was his sweeping epic Hawaii. The religious themes particularly resonated with me; I'd gone to super strict parochial school since first grade, and it was really beginning to rub me the wrong way. So I was particularly moved and enlightened by the part about the "farm of bitterness" in which the starched evangelist, Abner Hale wins the selfless hand of beautiful, brave Jerusha Bromley, who accompanies him on his mission to the islands and emerges as the true example of what Christianity is supposed to be (if only Christians would give it a try) before she dies in the measles epidemic brought to the natives by their generous benefactors.

HawaiiI subsequently saw Julie Andrews as Jerusha in the movie version of Hawaii, which homed in on the same segment of the book, and I decided right then and there: "Someday I will have a daughter. And her name will be Jerusha!"

Of course, I forgot about it over the years, but when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I were driving through the hinterlands of Montana, and we passed a fishing access marked with a green forest service sign: JERUSHA GULCH. A bolt from the blue! A sign from God! My own Jerusha was born a few months later, beautiful and brave -- with the added advantage of measles vaccine.

When Jerusha was twelve, she informed me that her goal was to someday build a time machine, return to that fishing access circa 1989 and replace the sign with one that says: HEY, YOU HIPPIES! NAME YOUR KID SOMETHING NORMAL!

She has to pronounce it for people twice, three times, spell it out. Teachers would roll call her "Joshua" every year on the first day of school. It's different, which made it hard for her to love until she learned to love everything else about herself that makes her unique. At 21, she's grown into it. Last year, she traveled alone to Cambodia to join a Habitat for Humanity project in Phnom Penh. I tucked a copy of "Hawaii" in her duffle bag before she left.


I'm laughing my head off at Jerusha's version of "the sign." But really, how many kids get a really great story like that to go along with their name?
Love love love this post. I have yet to meet Jerusha, but she sounds like quite a character. And yes, I'm sure she'll eventually appreciate her name.
Sounds like she already does.

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