Our son’s name is Paton Brett Rayl. It’s pronounced just like “Patton”, but only has one “t” for a reason. He was named after John G. Paton.
When Taylor and I began playing the name game (like all expecting parents do) we quickly discovered we had different (but complementary!) priorities in naming our child. Taylor insisted, like a good mom, it had to sound good — to our ears at least — which meant it had to fit him not only as a child but also a teen and an adult. She wanted a name we could enjoy saying and that he would hopefully enjoy hearing. I felt strongly (according to my over-thoughtfulness) that his name should have meaning. I wanted a name that could help guide him through the challenges of life and faith. We both wanted him to feel part of a new legacy of faith, inheriting the promises of God not for us only, but also for our children (Gen 17:7; Acts 2:39), and hoped his name might help do this. We had different (but complimentary!) priorities as we discovered. However, it took us some trial and error to discover that. If you know us at all you can probably picture the following conversations:
Taylor: “What about [nice sounding boy's name]?”
Me: “Maybe…what is the significance in that?”
Taylor: “I don’t know…It sounds good!
Me: [shaking head]
Taylor: That’s significant too you know!”
Me: “How about Turretin?
Taylor: “Turra-what? Whose that?”
Me: “After Francis Turretin, the Reformer…”
Taylor: “It just sounds like ‘turrets’ to me.”
Me: “Okay, what about Brakel? Named after…”
It’s amazing we eventually landed on some names we both really liked (remember, different but complementary!). And I think the first name that really landed with both of us was Paton. It sounded nice enough to Taylor and it came from John G. Paton (hence the single “t” spelling of “Patton”), whose biography by John Piper and autobiography (still in print!) had greatly impacted us in our journey to full-time service overseas. As we reflected on this name (especially compared to other options) after a few months it remained at the top of our list.
The initial connection was with John G. Paton as a missionary to the New Hebrides (Vanuatu). His example of courage and perseverance as a missionary to islands filled with Cannibals has always inspired me since I first heard his story as a teenager, and it has impacted Taylor as well. This is exemplified by the quote that John Paton is best known for in response to a “Mr. Dickson,” who argued he should not go to the New Hebrides because “The Cannibals! You will be eaten by Cannibals!” (which was no idle threat, first missionaries to serve had been killed, cooked, and eaten right after arrival)! After several times of this encounter, John Paton calmly retorted:
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honouring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.
John Paton would go on to almost be eaten by Cannibals dozens of time during his first term of mostly fruitless service, which led to his eventual escape from the island of Tanna. He later returned to the island of Aniwa, where the Spirit fell in power, and the whole island came to Christ. His reflections on God’s call to serve in the face of great danger exemplify his life:
I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done. The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth.
What an awesome example to have as a namesake, right?
However, our hope for Paton is not that he will be the next John Paton by being a great missionary or pastor or anything like that. What led us to eventually fall in love with this name was the story of the legacy of faith which John Paton inherited. In his biography, Piper declares that John Patons don’t come out of nowhere — they come from a mommy and a daddy (provided by God). John Paton grew up in a household of faith, which he shares about as the main foundation that prepared him for his eventual calling. This is what we long to give to our son more than anything else. The story which has stayed with me the most over years from John Paton’s autobiography is not a story of his adventures in the South Pacific islands, but of the deep affection that existed between by his parents who gave him a legacy of faith by their faithfulness. This story comes from his account of when he first left home for college:
My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked together in almost unbroken silence,–my Father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl’s down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me; and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! We halted on reaching the appointed parting place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said:
“God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil.”
Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him–gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Then, rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return–his head still uncovered , and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father, when we parted–his advice, prayers, and tears–the road, the dyke, the climbing up on it and then walking away, head uncovered–have often, often, all through life, risen vividly before my mind, and do so now while I am writing, as if it has been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel. It is no Pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped, by god’s grace, to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.
Our prayer for our son is that he will know, at least in part, a family who imparts such a legacy of faith and faithfulness. We ultimately decided on the name Paton, not in hopes of what he will someday become, but in hopes of what we may seek to be for him throughout his life. His name is a seal of our promise to him before God that we will do all that we can, by God’s provision, to lead him in the knowledge of the glory and grace of Christ for his joy and salvation. And…at least to us and we hope to him…it sounds good!
Paton Brett Rayl with both his namesakes