You thought of everything. You painted ducks in the nursery, mapped out a route to the hospital and downed prenatal vitamins like they were Tic Tacs. You researched pediatricians and became an expert in car seats. You even calculated what Harvard will cost in 2038. You took every step that an expectant parent should take in preparing for a new baby. But did you truly stop to appreciate the most challenging duty you agreed to undertake when you and your spouse got pregnant: naming that baby?
What’s in a name? Everything. Or so I thought before my daughter was born. I pictured my child’s name as a tattoo that she would wear forever, on her forehead in flashing neon. Every name seemed to come with an underlying connotation that could shape the way the world would view my child. No, not every Phineas will grow up to be a tax attorney and not every Moonglow will live in a commune making friendship bracelets. But inherent perceptions will persist nonetheless.
As parents, you get to decide whether your little ones spend eternity introducing themselves as Spencer or Spartacus, Scarlett or Sahara. So you should take seriously the responsibility you have to grant your child a name that has meaning and influence, a name that will set them apart from the crowd while also making them fit in, a name that suits not just that baby in the bassinette but also the adult that you hope they will someday become. At the very least, you should put in more effort than you did in naming your first car.
“It just feels like a Bandit, doesn’t it?” perhaps you said, revving the engine.
It seems unwise to take the same casual approach in naming a child. Those first few sleepless nights unfold in a torrent of screaming and digestive distress, only some of which comes from your baby. It’s hardly an atmosphere for making rational decisions; it’s a good idea to make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page long before the first diaper change clouds your judgment. “She just feels like a Calamity, doesn’t she?”
I’ve only participated in naming one child, so I’m no expert. That was in 2002 and a lot has changed. There were fewer kids named after cities and nouns. Poppy was a flower and Griffin was a mythological beast. Asher, Scout, Ryder and Knox were barely on the map. Not that there is anything wrong with those names. It’s just that the name pool seemed shallower back then, intensifying one’s desire to pull a name from the deep end.
My daughter arrived shortly after Emily and Jacob had climbed to the top of the most-popular-baby-name lists. Those names were instantly vetoed, as were the rest of the top 10 in an effort to avoid their expected overexposure. Sophia the First isn’t just a TV show, it’s also the nickname of a girl in every classroom across America. She sits right in front of Sophias the Second and Third, alongside enough Noahs to fill an ark. Sharing a name seems harmless until your child suffers the consequences, giving his classmates cause to point out his more distinguishing characteristics.
“I’m Jacob-with-the-ears in math class,” your son will say with an unaware smile. “But in gym they just call me Jacob-who-runs-funny.”
In other words, a little originality can go a long way. The key phrase there is “a little.” Too much originality can overshoot the goal in the form of confounding spelling or gratuitous punctuation. I give kudos to the parents bold enough to try something new, but I also wonder if Chayce will tire of always having to spell his name or if Brit’nee will be upset that hers never appears among the souvenir keychains. Innovative names can walk that narrow line between chic and ridiculous, and I feared that any attempt I made would lean toward the latter.
“It’s pronounced just like the Pokemon character,” I imagined my daughter having to explain. “But the semi-colon is silent, and that’s a soft Q.”
The same year my daughter was born, Ross and Rachel named their Friends baby Emma. By no small coincidence, Emma instantly shot into the top five girl names where it remained until recently. That’s just one example, but it drives home the point that baby name popularity can be dictated by the unpredictable currents of pop culture. The next big name could emerge from Duck Dynasty or Game of Thrones, seemingly opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum. Someplace in between is likely where the perfect name lies. You just have to find it.
Of course, my daughter already has it, in my (completely unbiased) opinion. She might not have been born a Sadie but she has certainly grown into one, and now I can’t imagine her being anything but. It seems unlikely that she will wake up one day and say, “I really feel more like a Penelope.”
So maybe it’s not about finding the perfect name. Maybe the true goal is in realizing that a name is just a name, no matter how modern or conventional. We watch as our children grow to fulfill our every expectation, slowly becoming the Quinn or Ezra or Gracie that we always dreamed they would be. We give them names at birth but, in the end, those names do not define their character so much as their character will eventually define their names.