Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What's in a Name?

Personally, I think choosing a name for an offspring is one of the most difficult tasks a parent faces. It’s a moniker that has to carry the child through his or her toddlerhood, primary school, awkward teenage years, and finally, into adulthood. It’s a choice that will stay—or haunt, as the case may be—for a lifetime.

Even though my sons are five and nearly two, I still have moments when I question whether Andrew and Nicholas were good names to pick.

Our name-picking process was a bit tortured, to say the least. With son number one, he was knocking around for a full three days before we decided on a name. We were a bit more prompt with Nicholas (by one day), but only because our friends Anne and Chris babysat Andrew for us for a few hours so we could have a “Name Summit.” (I’m sure if we had a few more days to spare, we would have taken them to deliberate).

In our defense, we didn’t know the gender of either child ahead of time, so that made deciding when pregnant doubly difficult. Also, since we’re writers, I think we approached the task with slightly more obsessiveness than most people. But when people tell me they had a difficult time picking a name, I totally understand.

My friend Jennie gave birth to a beautiful daughter two weeks ago, but for the first few days, her daughter was also nameless. She and her husband had been expecting a boy—they have two older sons—so when a girl came along they were completely unprepared, both with pink clothes and a name. They thought they had decided on Opal for a name, but apparently so many people pulled a face when told the choice, they changed their mind. Their daughter’s name is now Lydia.

So today, when I was doing some research into the 60th anniversary of V-E day, (the original subject of today’s post, and don’t worry, I’ll get to World War II eventually), I came across the U.S. Social Security Site listing the most popular baby names. I started to look into how popular our choices were, and I was disappointed to see that both choices made it into the top 15. It is possible, however, that while Andrew and Nicholas may be popular in the U.S., they aren’t as popular in the U.K.

In any case, in 1999, the year Andrew was born, that name was the seventh most popular in the land. Andrew held that spot until 2003, when it jumped to No. 5, and last year, it settled back down to be the sixth most popular name.

In 2003, when Nicholas was born, it was the 13th most popular name, and it held that spot last year. George, which was a strong contender to be Nicholas’ first name, and is in fact his middle name, was ranked 138th. George is my father-in-law’s name, but when we were deciding on a name, I could hear my mother-in-law in the back of my mind saying, as she once had, “George always hated his name. It’s a terrible name.”

Now that I’ve seen that it wasn’t so popular that year, it made me second-guess our choice a full two years later. While it was always important to me that my children have names everyone can spell, I also don’t want either of my sons to have someone in his class with the same name. On the other hand, if you go too far in the other direction, by giving them a really distinct name, then you find yourself in Jennie’s situation, where people make a face and say, “Really?” when told the name, and I don’t want that either.

(If you’d like some fun, and if you’re not careful, you might waste a lot of time, check out your own name at the Social Security Site at http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/.)

As I’m still wrestling with our decisions, I don’t envy any new parent’s task of choosing a name for their new beautiful baby. Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” Quite a lot, I’d say.


Laura said...

Sometimes I think you and I are separated at birth although you quite clearly got the writing gene. This post made me grin yet again and took me back to my own dilemma, 7 years ago.

I was expecting twins who were going to be raised bi-lingual. I knew they were non-identical but wasn’t sure about the combination. Two girls, boy/girl, two boys? Every combination had its own set of names. Furthermore it had to be pronounceable for children in two languages (Dutch and English). We had 7 months to come up with something but it came down to the last 2 minutes of my pregnancy.

We got a girl/boy and we decided on Tess(a) and Sam(uel). Just to show that you can’t win as a parent: my son has a lisp….

Anonymous said...

At least you didn't name your kids Britney. Especially since they are boys.

Hugs from Quigs