He Says, She Says Saturday: Baby Name Manifesto

I have been anticipating writing this post for weeks (ever since writing this one).  I have been making mental lists of all the facets of our baby name style and system.  I have been soul-searching on the topic of “what really matters” in a baby name.  I have been *so* excited to read what Trevor’s going to write today (I got to see his notes last weekend: I hope he shares all – you’ll be in for a real treat.)  And yet, as I sit here, I have no idea what to write.  Trying to contain in a single blog post all the hopes and dreams that are tied up in choosing a baby name for me… well, it’s a little like asking a theologian to write a 300-word essay on God.  I shall do my very best to be succinct, but I’m not making any promises.

I think what I love most about names is their inherent accessibility.  Any person can choose any name.  There are no price tags to consider, no fat content or carb grams to worry about, and (as long as you’re blessed as we are to have family members who more or less keep their opinions to themselves) it is a decision for just two people to make with very little red-tape.  I just love to imagine that the very best name for each of our children is out there, ours for the choosing, and we have only to find it and fall in love with it.

But with each new baby we name, there seem to be more strings attached, for better or for worse.  Could we name a daughter Ann after naming her sisters Philippa, Romilly and Beatrix? We could, but mightn’t she feel her name is just a little bit plain?  Or mightn’t they wish for the simplicity and ease of her name?  It wouldn’t be perfect, in any case.  Likewise, we could name her Katerina, but it would be obvious to us (although possibly not to everyone else; I realize no one thinks about this quite as deeply as I do) that while her sisters have British-flavored names, hers is a bit more exotic and European.  Not perfect.

Boys’ names pose a different challenge to us, mainly because we’ve never had to use one.  We’ve never really had to pin down exactly what our boy name style is, and I think  it could be quite different from our girl name style without seeming too out of step.  We could stick with longer, more unusual British names, sure.  We could also just as easily go with sturdier, more classic names for boys, and they’d still fit in just fine.  I think we could even go with underused Bible names for boys without anyone thinking, “Wow, didn’t see that one coming!”  (Incidentally, we have had a different boy name chosen for each of the girls, and our current frontrunner is different again.  Aren’t we fickle?)

So while the baby name world is still our oyster, the definition of perfect has become decidedly narrower with each baby we have named.  Our task now is to decide which rules or patterns are worth following, and which ones are better bent (or thrown out entirely) to accommodate a name that we both truly love in spite of its imperfections.

I am guessing Trevor’s list of rules will be rather longer than mine.  He tries to sneak new ones in all the time when he thinks I’m not paying attention.  The most recent is that “if a name has a nickname it should be the default full name for that nickname”, thus he will not consider Ted as a possible nickname for Edmund because “Ted is short for Theodore.”  He has titles for all of these rules and tosses them around as though they should carry sufficient weight to end the discussion of a given name on the spot.  I draw your attention to this fact because I think some of our friends and family may be under the impression that I am the driving force behind the insanity of our name deliberations.  Not so.  My husband (who, admittedly, was largely trained in nameology by me)  is by far the more neurotic one when it comes to sticking to the rules.  At least when it suits him.

If it were entirely up to me, these would be my priorities:

  1. We have to love it.  Plain and simple.  It’s sometimes hard to keep this a top priority, but it really does trump everything else.
  2. A name must have a solid history of use and be spelled correctly.
  3. A name should have a British vibe and/or a history of use in the UK.
  4. It should be at least fairly uncommon, although not necessarily as uncommon as the names we have chosen so far.
  5. It has to have accessible nicknames (the more options the merrier) that are not too much of a stretch from the full name.  (I’ve heard of a Pippa whose full name was Epiphany… that doesn’t so much work for me).
  6. At least one name (first or middle) should be connected to a family member or have other special meaning.
  7. It must be free from issues either with initials spelling unsavory words or with bad flow with our last name (names ending in -ia, like Amelia, tend to be a little problematic, for example).
  8. It would be really nice (although, I’m beginning to acknowldge, not completely necessary) if it started with a different letter than any of our other kids’ names and maybe even than our names.  I know.  It’s ridiculous.  But we’re both scientific types, and, mathematically speaking, if the names are to form a perfect set, they must be either all the same or all different.  One of those ships has  already sailed (thankfully… can you imagine if we had Pippa, Primrose and Patience?!?), so… well, I’m just saying it would be nice if it worked out that way.

If I sit here long enough, I will keep adding to this list, and that really wouldn’t be helpful at this point, so I’ll stop there.

So, if you feel like a challenge (and I hope you do!):  Now that you have read our criteria, what names for each gender seem absolutely perfect for our family?

(Have you read his yet?  Go read, but don’t forget to come back and leave me a comment!)

Baby Name Manifesto: The Prequel

Photobucket I don’t think it will come as a surprise to any of my readership that finding the perfect name is rather at the top of my to-do list these days.  Two names, in fact, since we won’t be finding out whether this little one is a boy or a girl.  The trouble is, we’re both suffering from a bit of name exhaustion after naming three children (and having to settle on boys’ names for each of them as well!) in four years.  We’re tired of talking about names, we’re tired of thinking about names (well, Trevor is at least), and we’re even tired of a lot of the names we once liked.  So, in the interest of livening things up a little bit, perhaps getting some outside input, or at least getting ourselves to organize our thoughts, we are letting you all have a glimpse into our name universe.  As soon as our schedule permits, we will be featuring our baby naming philosophy as an HS,SSS topic (though it may be a few weeks!)

Just so you’re not disappointed as you read on, I’ll tell you upfront that I don’t plan on sharing any of the actual names that we’re considering in this post (or its sequel).  It just gets too messy when people comment on names you’re considering before you’ve actually used them, so I’ll spare us all that grief.  Having said that, I am looking forward to hearing suggestions from you all after you’ve read this and understand the intricate (albeit self-imposed) name infrastructure we have to work within.  But that’s all for another post…

In preparation for what may be the most exciting post I’ve ever written (exciting for me to write, you understand, I’m quite certain not at all exciting for anyone to read) I’m taking myself (and my husband, who says he doesn’t remember anything about this) on a little trip down baby naming memory lane.   So, for posterity as well as preparatory purposes, I present to you a thorough history of how our girls came to have the names they have.

I think we are probably thought of (at least among our American cohorts) as “out-there” baby namers, but it hasn’t always been that way (and, in fact, I could make a pretty good case that it isn’t that way at all).  When Pippa was on the way, I first wanted her to be called either Alice or Violet.  Violet ended up being her middle name, since neither of us loved the possibility of her being nicknamed Vi.  Trevor didn’t love Alice (which ended up being Romilly’s middle name) so we decided that we would find a name that we “just loved” for the first name and use a family name in the middle.  (Little did we know this would set the precedent for all of our children to follow.)  Pippa was really the only name we talked about, the only one we both loved, and after that it was just a matter of working out the middle name.  Once we settled on Philippa Violet, we never looked back.  When I held her for the first time, I asked Trevor, “Is she Pippa?”  and she was.

Romilly’s name wasn’t as easy to come by, but probably by about halfway through the pregnancy it was a frontrunner.  We both loved it but had slight misgivings about its legitimacy as a name.  So we did our homework.  It was clearly not a name with centuries of use like Philippa (which, by the way has an interesting story itself*), but it does, nevertheless, have an interesting and colorful history, most of which we discovered on this website, devoted to the history and use of the name Romilly: first as a place name, then as a surname, then as a first name.  (If you follow the link and scroll down for long enough, you will find our own little Ro among the ranks of recorded Romillys worldwide – fun!).  We had intended to call her Romy for short, but for the most part, it has never stuck, at least not since Pippa dubbed her Ro-Ro when Pippa was 18 months old.

When the time came to name our third baby (and, as it happened, third girl) in three years, we found ourselves a little uninspired.  We easily came up with a list of names we “liked”, but nothing we loved, and finding the perfect combination proved quite a puzzle.  Beatrix was our first child to be truly born without a name waiting for her.  We had gone to the hospital with a list of about ten possible girl names (incidently, the boy name was perfectly settled), and the nurse seemed very surprised to receive the answer “I don’t know yet” when she asked us what her name was after she was born. Fortunately, she had a name within about thirty seconds of that conversation, since Trevor and I both (separately) knew she was a Beatrix immediately upon seeing her.

The one thing that we did know going into the delivery room was that if we had a girl her middle name had to be Joan, or some form thereof (it’s Joanna).  Violet had been Trevor’s maternal grandmother’s name, Alice is the name of both of my grandmothers (handy) and that left Trevor’s Grandma Joan.  Joan caused all sorts of problems for us (the name, not the Grandma – she’s wonderful), not that it isn’t a fine name.  It is one-syllable, which wasn’t our first choice for flow with our one-syllable last name.  It started with a J, with made it rather too alliterative with several first names we liked that had soft G sounds in them.  It ended in an n sound, which made it awkward with first names on our list that ended in and n also.  Nothing but trouble, you see?  Once a dear friend suggested tweaking it to Joanna, our name possibilities opened up considerably.

In the end, it was possibly the meaning of Beatrix that gave it the extra sparkle that sent it to the top of the list.  It is from “Viatrix” meaning a traveller or sojourner, and was used quite a bit by early Christians to emphasize the idea that this earth is not our true home.  What a helpful reminder to them (and to me and hopefully one day to Beatrix herself) not to get bogged down in the snares of this world that so easily entangle!  We did consider the French form Beatrice, but we liked that the x preserved the original intent and language better.  Plus x’s are just fun.

This time around, we have had a girls’ name in mind (first and middle) since I was about five weeks pregnant, long before anyone but us even knew we were talking names again.  (I know, you’re dying to know.  I’m sorry, I really am.  E-mail me if you really can’t take the suspense.)   For boys, we seem to be stuck in a holding pattern over the same five or six names we’ve considered for all of the girls, and they’re all seeming a little… eh.

If you think I’m a crazy neurotic name nut now, wait until you read about our rules… But until then, why not regale me with stories of how you chose your own children’s names?  Or just tell me what you’d name a baby right now if one was left on your doorstep nameless.   Oh, I would love comments like that so much.  You really can’t imagine!

*  The history of Philippa: a long time ago (don’t ask me how long, because I don’t remember, Philip was a unisex name, commonly used both for baby boys and baby girls.  On census records, baby girl Philips were recorded as Philip(a) to make it clear that she was female, and gradually a new feminine form of the name emerged.  It is usually spelled Philippa in the UK, but (interestingly) Phillipa in Australia.  It is common in both countries, though not popular for little ones right now.  More like a ‘Susan’ type name.