For many mums and dads to-be, naming your child is one of the first things to start thinking about after discovering you are pregnant. Some even make their decisions before conception. Choosing a name for your new baby should be an exciting time, one of the most fun parts of the pregnancy, right? For me, it was more stressful than sensational, fraught with panic rather than pleasure. But why didn’t I enjoy choosing my babies’ names? I thought you’d never ask..
Pre-Conceived (literally) Notions
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Like lots of women, I’d enjoyed daydreaming about future babies, and what I would call them, since childhood. As a little girl, each of my dolls were re-named every time they came out to play; and as a teen, although I’d put away my dolls for good, I still enjoyed musing over names for my future hypothetical, children.
School friends and I would sit at the back of the classroom during boring lessons, discussing how many children we planned to have, and the names we’d choose for them. Typically, these would be long and fancy, often including two or even three middle names per child, and some of us chose names with a particular theme in mind- one friend liked Irish names, another liked the idea of having surnames as first names.
My own tastes were eclectic, ranging from the traditional (Oliver, William, Molly) to the more unusual (Xanthe, Douglas, Frederika), and often looking back into my family tree for inspiration- for a long time I was sure I’d name a daughter Minnie-Ellen, after a long-dead distant relative I’d never met, but whose name I thought sounded rather superb!
Fast-forward to my first pregnancy, and it was time to think about baby names for real- naming an actual human, who would have to live with the choice I made until they were at least 18, if not for their whole life. It suddenly all seemed a very serious decision, and not nearly as fun as I had imagined during those tedious school lessons of my teens.
For a start, I had to take my husband’s thoughts into account now too. His taste in names is extremely different than mine, so finding something that we could both like, never mind love enough to bestow on our child, seemed like an impossible task.
If I suggested a name outside of the top 100, he reacted with something akin to horror- much like my own reaction when he suggested yet another top-twenty name, or said that in his opinion, a middle name was “not really that important, anyway” (insert gasp).
In addition to this, both of us had family members we thought we might like to honor in our baby’s name. Coming up with the perfect name that pleased us both was going to be hard!
Then came my own personal list of ‘must-haves.’ I wanted a name that was not too popular, but also not so unusual that people would say they’d never heard of it before. I didn’t want to choose something so “out-there” that people would assume I had made it up, or think I was deliberately trying to be quirky. The first and middle names needed to flow together beautifully, as well as fit nicely with our surname; but at the same time, the initials must not spell anything silly or rude- ideally I felt that they shouldn’t spell any word at all.
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In addition to this, the name mustn’t be too difficult to spell- one of my sisters grew up with a name that, while considered fairly commonplace now, was unusual when she was a child, and I remember it becoming something of a running joke in our house that on each birthday, every one of her birthday cards from friends would have a different spelling of her name inside, all of them incorrect. Even letters from her school or doctor’s surgery would sometimes contain a spelling error.
I didn’t want that for my child, but at the same time I also didn’t want to change the generally accepted spelling of a well-established name- turning Niamh into Neev, for example. And what about names with more than one agreed spelling? I liked Catherine for a daughter, but when I wrote it down on my list of maybes – my husband pointed out that he would have spelled it Kathryn. Both are correct, both are similarly popular, so if I chose a name like this one, would I be subjecting my child to a life of having to spell out her name every time she said it? This thought bothered me, so I ultimately crossed that name off my list.
For me, making sure that my child’s name was unique from any future siblings was also an important consideration. For example, I loved the name Charles, and also Charlotte, but I was very aware that Charlotte is a feminine form of Charles, so I wouldn’t have wanted to use both. If I used Charles for a son, then Charlotte was off the table for any future daughters, and vice versa.
We eventually settled on a short list of names for boys and girls that met all of the above criteria, and made our final decision a few hours after the baby was born. But three years later, pregnant with baby number two, and the entire process began again. This time there was yet another factor to consider, as I had to think about how this baby’s name would ‘flow’ when said together with his or her brother’s. I – and lots of other people – would be saying those two names together, as a pair, for a lot of years, and I wanted to make sure that they sounded just right. On top of all my other self-imposed rules, this made naming number two a tricky process, and took up most of the pregnancy.
Now I’ve finished having my babies, and chosen their monikers, I’m happy to go back to idly daydreaming about names, and enjoying it again! Who would have thought that naming your child would be so complicated?!