What’s in a name: The power (and perils) of baby namesMay 23, 2017
Let me set the scene. I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant with my second child, and freaking out. I’m reading a book called The Second Baby Survival Guide – and it’s doing nothing to soothe my anxieties. Everyone keeps asking how I am, if our toddler is excited (she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on) and – every time – do we have a name?
Traditionally, names were handed down the family tree, new babies were simply given the name of their grandparent or a relative. Little baby John or Mary. Happy days. No messing around. Today? It seems each pregnancy is an opportunity to ‘discover’ the perfect name – whether that means unusual, but not too weird, or totally unique, while also considering every possible nickname, and anticipating what the school bullies might think of (my husband’s boarding school background makes this practically a sport, as he takes glee in coming up with crude interpretations of sweet little names, lightning fast, such as Saggy Maggie – and it’s making our choices pretty limited…).
Hours are spent on websites dedicated to names, with endless lists based on themes, origins and initials. Trends are predicted, top 100 countdowns created (some people use these for inspiration – others add them to the ‘absolutely not’ pile) and boundaries are pushed, with the most out-there parents adding in punctuation, or ditching/adding letters to make the name ‘their own’. I’ll never forget a teacher friend telling me about a pupil called T-A. Pronounced ‘Tadasha’. “You say the dash, Miss”.
The modern trend for old lady names isn’t going away, but I personally can’t wait – just for sheer amusement – for when we start to use names from our parents’ generation. Baby Maureen. Little Barbara. Clive. Dennis. Bonny little Geoffrey. Not a single Carol was born in 2014. These are the names that might die out – though that’s perhaps not a good enough reason to use them.
Speaking from experience, what starts as a simple online search can take you down the rabbit hole, and you emerge, bleary-eyed, WhatsApping your husband with a new shortlist, where ‘Bathsheba’ is the most mainstream. You look into their origins, and dismiss perfectly good names because you don’t like the meaning (Cecily was a favourite until I learnt it meant ‘blind’).
Then you find one or two that fit. Something you could imagine saying countless times a day – and you will! – that works with your surname, a planned middle name, with their sibling’s names, that won’t invite mockery. And you might tell a couple of people, or you’ll hold it close, like a secret. While it’s tempting to share this treasured name and see the reaction, sometimes you won’t like the reaction…
Or maybe you’ve had a name since you were a child, that you dreamt of giving your little boy or girl. Job done. But someone ‘steals’ it, and it’s the end of your world. I’ve seen online forums and Facebook groups where mums-to-be are practically squaring up for a fight with their sister-in-law or life-long friend over a baby name – and that’s when you need to have a chat with yourself.
The most important thing is that you, as parents, like the name, for you are the ones who are going to be saying it over and over and over again – with joy and frustration – from morning until night. The name becomes part of your child’s identity. You might go the hospital armed with a few possibilities and choose one when you see the baby – you choose the name that fits and feels right; years later you won’t be able to imagine that child being called anything else.
For me, the criteria are simple: I want a name that works on a child, but won’t seem out of place if she wants to be a barrister. Something feminine but not… mimsy.
Do we have a name? Yes. Am I telling you what it is? Definitely not.