Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The What Nobody Tells You Files: Baby names edition

They bring joyous smiles; they bring agonizing indecision. They bring about intense conversations; they enlighten us more to our partners' aesthetic sensibilities than anything else: more than planning the wedding, more than decorating the first home, more than choosing the tunes for a road trip, more than anything. They prompt us to spend hours at work making long lists under our desks. They are probably the best non-medical reason that ultrasound technology has become the industry that it has become.

What am I talking about?

Baby names, of course.

It's ok to admit you bought a copy.
You know, many of our readers are first-time expectant parents, and you've probably all heard of the What to Expect series. I want to let you in on a little secret, though: as with all things pregnancy, birth, and baby, there's a little category of information regarding baby names that I like to call What Nobody Tells You.

If you've already been talking baby names, you're probably in list-maker mode anyway--so let's go with a list! Here are five common truths about naming your baby that nobody's going to tell you.

1) Understand the Principle of Inverse Proportion. Yes, just like in math class. There's an inversely proportional relationship between the emotional closeness that a person purports to hold with you and the rudeness with which he or she expresses an opinion about your choice of name for your soon-to-be-born offspring. Be prepared to hear everything from, "Well, that's a new one!" to the slightly skeptical, "And you're going to spell it with the 'e'?" to the flat-out incredulous, "You're gonna name him... that?" Best of all, be prepared to hear those things from your closest friends and family members... and from the extended family members you haven't seen since your cheeks were pinch-worthy, but who are suddenly calling to check up on you because they heard you were havin' a little boy and just wanted to know what you were thinking of naaaaming him, darlin'! You know, for the monogramming. Then be prepared to be handed a list of clearly more suitable alternatives, "In case you change your mind."

Know a handful of John Paul's? So do I!
2) There will be name repeats in your circle. This is something I was turning over in my head recently. I tend to run in a circle of young Catholic families who are growing every year or two. Young Catholic families who are devoted to the same saints who wrote the same books and spoke the same quotations that we all enjoy passing around to each other on our preferred social sharing networks... and, you know, the very same saints that we all want to name our children after! I'm sure the same could be said of any other social circle where the the families involved are likeminded in terms of faith, or intellect, or aesthetic sensibility. At a given diocesan function, I could potentially run into: one friend whose son's name is, first and middle, exactly the same as my son's, two friends whose daughters share the same first and middle names, two friends whose sons are named in honor of the late Pope John Paul II, one friend whose son's middle name is our without-a-doubt pick for our next son's first name, and one friend whose son's middle name is our without-a-doubt pick for our next son's middle name. Substitute "saint" for "punk rock icon" or "Old Testament figure" or "Civil Rights leader" and you can see how this might translate to your circle. So, go ahead: agonize over that perfect name (because you will), and, by all means, take into account the popularity of your favorites, but don't stress too much. It's bound to happen. You have excellent taste, after all.

Maybe his taste is just "beyond."
3) Your husband's taste really is that out-of-touch... and sometimes that is cutting-edge after all. I'll never forget my husband campaigning to name our first baby Janice.  I'll never forget my relief when that ultrasound revealed that Janice would not, after all, remain a candidate for his name. But, you know what? I bet that Janice sees a comeback in the near future. I'm seeing other names that I've previously stereotyped as "office lady" names--Wanda, Maxine, Betty, Marian--popping up in certain pockets of the US. So if your husband suggests something that isn't even on your radar, it's a good idea to try to consider it. And when you're asking your family members what they think, remember the Principle of Inverse Proportion.

4) Even John, Mary, Aiden, and Madison will have to spell their names for somebody someday. It's a noble goal, this, "We really want a name that nobody will have trouble spelling or pronouncing, because this will be our child's name for the rest of her life!" I get it! That's a great reason to skip over Chrysanthemum or Aeschylus. But take it from a plain old Laura (everybody knows how to spell Laura, right? Wrong): your child will have his or her name misspelled, mispronounced, or misunderstood by some receptionist or telemarketer somewhere. Don't limit your options--or eliminate some of your favorite contenders--because you're afraid that the general public won't know what to do with the silent 's' in Isla or with the vowels in Seamus. If you love it, use it, and let the world learn something new about phonetics!

5) Your child may go through a period where he dislikes his name. I remember asking my mom what all the names she considered for me were--and every single one of them sounded more glamorous and lovely to my eight-year old ears than the name I had to write at the top of every paper that crossed my desk at school. I wanted to be Elizabeth, Rhiannon, Mary Margaret... anything but Laura Lynn. I think I hurt her feelings, even though what I was trying to do was compliment her taste. My three-year old sometimes tells me he doesn't want his name to be Dominic any more, because he wants it to be Power Ranger. Can you imagine? 

You know you watched it when you were pregnant.
If you're remembering all of the emotional and mental investment that went into choosing the perfect name for your new bundle--the love and care, the hours and the lists, enduring the spousal negotiations and the raised eyebrows from your loved ones as you whittled down your lists so that you could impart the one thing that would endure once the nursery walls were painted over and the cloth diaper stash was sold off, once the gown was donned and the cap was tossed and the small baby who was growing inside of you and kicking you in the ribs during M'Lynn's speech at the end of Steel Magnolias is suddenly a tall, bearded man driving away in a luggage-loaded two-door, headed for wherever his dreams and his limited savings account may take him--if you're remembering all that (and you're a mom, so you probably are), it will sting when, at some point along the way, your child expresses a desire to change his name. Don't worry.

You can call your child Power Ranger or Pinkie Pie for a while. No matter what you call that baby, she will always call you "Mama." That's the reward you get for all the hard work you'll do. Choosing the perfect name is only the first assignment.