What’s in a Name?

During the course of a pregnancy, an expectant couple must decide what to name the future offspring. If they choose to know the sex of the baby, the task is apparently cut in half, having to decide but one name.

Having to choose a name is sometimes daunting — this is what the child will be known as for the rest of his or her life. And if he or she happens to be famous, then the name will live on even longer!

I sometimes read blogs of people who are trying to find a name for their as-yet-unborn child, and asking others for their opinions. Many times I wonder if they actually choose any of the names that strangers suggest. When I offer my opinion, it is usually in the form of answering how to choose a name, rather than suggestions for what a name should be.

Some people will find inspiration in works of religion or literature — Bible names are a frequent favorite, with some couples deciding at the outset to have all their children’s names be from the Bible. (Despite what Seven Brides for Seven Brothers says, “Frankincense” is not the only “F” name in the Bible — Felix, Festus and Fortunatus are actual given names.)

While the fictional Pontapee parents in that movie chose all Bible names, in alphabetical order, some couples choose the same letter for all of their children — the Duggar family with 17 (plus one more on the way) children all have J names. One family I know has four daughters, plus both parents, with J names; and I think the J tradition has continued with at least one daughter’s children all bearing names beginning with J. A family in my church with 9 children named them all something beginning with M. It started when they experienced a few years of infertility, with doctors saying they didn’t know why they couldn’t have children, but it was a hopeless case. Then she was (miraculously) blessed with a child, which they named Matthew, meaning “Gift of God.” Before long, she was expecting again — this time a little girl, which they named Mary, because they thought it would be cute to have “M&M”. Then with every subsequent pregnancy, they never knew if this was going to be the last child they would be blessed with, and didn’t want one child to be the only one without an M name.

Sometimes, deciding what meaning you would like the name to have can be the way to find the name. There are websites that allow you to enter search terms for the meaning of the name and then return a variety of names with that meaning. This may also allow you to name your child after someone without actually using that name. For instance, according to one such website, my husband’s name means “free man”; when searching for the meaning “free” I get 170 different names. His name is Charles, of which there are many recognized variations (Carl, Chaz, etc.) and feminine derivatives (such as Caroline, Charlotte, Carla, etc.), as well as names of many different ethnicities and languages that mean the same thing. Quite interesting, actually!

If you are of a strong ethnicity, you may wish to honor that heritage by choosing traditional names of that culture.

Family names are always a good fall-back plan, if no other names immediately present themselves. Likewise naming children after well-known people — the death of Pres. Reagan inspired many a child to be given that name. Just make sure that the person’s character is above reproach, and preferably dead. I hate to put it that way, but while a person is alive, there is always the possibility of them falling into disrepute, or perhaps disowning the very thing that was the reason you wanted to honor him or her. My older son bears my father’s middle name and my father-in-law’s first name; my younger son has a Biblical name for his first name and my husband’s middle name. The girl name we picked out is Victoria (my husband likes V names, and I like this one) Katherine (my first name). But so far we haven’t had the opportunity to use it, and it is of course possible we’ll never use it, or if we do have a girl, that we’ll change our minds and name her something entirely different.

One problem you might run into is that two people from the same family might want to both use the same name. Unless the names would be identical, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem — a difficulty, perhaps, but not necessarily a problem. I wouldn’t recommend what a man I know did to his sons — the man’s name was Ken, and he named his older son Ken and his younger son Kenny. Their last name is Brown, which is so common a name that even in our small town, there is confusion. The sons are grown up, living in the same town as their father, and frequently get each other’s mail. And late bills. And tax returns. While one would think that the different addresses would keep things straight, it doesn’t always.

A less extreme case happened between a woman I know and her cousin — both decided independently that they wanted to name their first daughter after their mutual grandmother. Even if the first and middle names had been identical, the last names would have been different, and the cousins didn’t see each other much — just at Thanksgiving and so forth. But when the cousin found out that my friend picked out the same name, she pitched a fit, so my friend gave up the right to the name, and picked something else. Then when the cousin finally did have a baby, a girl, she ended up choosing a different name entirely!

When my husband and I first began our relationship, we soon found out that we had almost exactly opposite tastes in children’s names. His favorite names met with a tepid reception from me, and vice versa. The only thing we agreed on is that we wanted masculine boy names and feminine girl names. We also don’t like “trendy” names or made-up ones. Neither of us relishes the idea of naming a child something that he or she will constantly have to be spelling. So we also would go with traditional, rather than alternate spellings. When I gave birth the first time to Keith, my midwife made me spell his name before she put it on the birth certificate, because so many of her clients choose odd spellings, and she wanted to make sure it was right. I guess there is something to being the only person named something, but there is also something to not having to constantly spell your name and repeat your name because people can’t understand it. Being named “Kathy” is bad enough, since it could start with a K or C and end with y, i, ie, ye, ey, or ee (and possibly some others).

As a pharmacy tech, we frequently had new customers, and especially children. It was quite frustrating to have to remember that “Trey” was really James Smith, III; or “C.J.” was really Christine Joanna; or “Mike” was really James Michael Smith. And we had to remember it, because often we had to have their legal, given name in our computer so that it would match the name that the insurance company had on file, but the prescriptions would be written in their nickname. Yet despite that, my sister who still works at the pharmacy where I worked calls her son by his middle name; and our other sister calls her daughter and older son by their middle names. The only reason I didn’t do that with my son is that I absolutely refused to do it. To be honest, I think it sounds better to have his middle name come first, but I didn’t want to spend his pediatric years, nor for him to spend all of his years, having to explain to doctors, pharmacies, teachers, bosses, banks, and cell-phone companies that his real name is his middle name. I hated having to remember everybody’s first, middle, and nick-names as a tech, and I didn’t want to burden others with having to do that.

Still, it was easier to go through the baby name books and pick out names (or spellings) we didn’t like than to find those we did. Some of my favorite names were dismissed by my husband because of bad associations (one name in particular I remember, because it was the name of a girl who had gotten him in trouble in kindergarten!). One of my husband’s choices that I demurred was “Shannon” for a girl, because there are still too many boys named that — including one of my former classmates in grammar school, as well as a preacher we both know.

There are names we both like, but they are just too common. Anyone named Jennifer that is in the 15-35 year range will probably understand this point only too well. In my small junior college of some 2000 students, all of my classes had at least one Jennifer, and one class had three! I do understand the line of thinking behind naming children made-up or unusual names, to avoid them being one of many children of the same name. (But there are other choices, instead of going to the made-up “Neveah” [“Heaven” spelled backwards], which is actually quite a popular choice!)

Finally, think about how the name sounds, and if it is likely to give your child’s friends and acquaintances any reason to mock them. While children can be cruel with little provocation, having an odd name may open up an unnecessarily easy avenue for teasing. “Talula does the Hula” is one such given name. Thinking of how a name looks or sounds is another thing to consider, as well as what acronym the initials make. I know one doctor whose monogram (which he occasionally wears embroidered on his shirt pockets) is “JAM”. My father told the story that the owner of the Lear jet company named his daughter Crystal Chanda….Lear. My uncle almost named his daughter Amanda Lynn (A mandolin). Then there is somebody named Polly Esther (polyester). And of course I’ve seen people named William Williams or John Johnson, and it always makes me wonder, “Did their mothers hate them?” These punny names may just strike your fancy, but I urge you to think long and hard before you saddle your beloved child with a moniker that they may hate for all of their lives. One “tip” I read a long time ago in the Reader’s Digest is to stand at your back door every night for a week, and call out the name you’re thinking of (like you’re calling him or her in for dinner) several minutes. If at the end of the week you still like the name, it’s one you’ll like for many years.


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