To Name a Child

Etching of Shakespeare's "What's in a name?" quote.

Source: Jack Dorsey on Flickr

The ultrasound tech moved the wand back one more time, just to check. Minutes before, the baby’s legs were crossed. Now we had a good view right between the legs.

“Girl!” she said.

Garth and I looked at each other blankly. He smiled, so I did too.

“Do you have a name?” the tech asked, handing me a wad of paper towels for the gel on my belly.

“Yeah,” we said together.

She asked the name, so we told her.

For months I pestered Garth, brought him lists, insisted we sit down and choose at least some girl names we could agree on. Garth insisted that our chances of needing a girl name were low (boys are the majority on his dad’s side, so from a genetic perspective, he was probably right). Our list of boy names was four long, first and middle names matched to our liking, and put in birth order. We just couldn’t agree on a single name for a girl. When we finally did, we thought we were done. There we go, one we both like, might as well embroider it on everything now.

After watching a few friends go through the irritating everyone-has-an-opinion-on-the-name phase of their pregnancies, Garth and I decided it best to keep the name a secret. We inserted it into a list of five girl names and if anyone asked what we were going to name our baby, we’d give them the list. Sometimes I would add that we did have a favorite, but there’s always that chance of changing your mind when you see the baby.

Then I hit week thirty-four of pregnancy, and along came another name. I found it while browsing the internet, and it turned out to be sort of significant. I paired it with a name we hadn’t really considered for a middle name–suddenly, I had a name that would honor both sides of the family. And it would be a complete surprise to them because it wasn’t on the list. Oh boy, what do you do with that?

So now we’re stuck. We have a name that we really like, the first one we both agreed on which has a meaning we’re attached to, but then there’s a name with strong family ties which also has a nice meaning.

What’s in a name, anyway?


My family never talked about what our names meant, so it wasn’t something I ever really thought about. My father-in-law is a student of names, and he carefully considered what the names of each of his children meant. It was a conversation with him one day that got me interested in name meanings.

Garth and I had been married for a few months and were temporarily living with his parents. We sat at the kitchen island with his sister and a laptop, typing name after name into meaning-of-names.com. His sister and I thought it was fun that both of our names meant “strong” (hers means “strong tower,” mine just means “strong”).

Then we looked up Garth’s name. His dad had already explained that the name meant something like “small, enclosed garden,” or “protected garden,” and our search came up with the same results.

I thought it was a strange but fun coincidence that my name meant strong and his name meant protected (sort of the reverse of traditional gender roles, which didn’t bother me). We looked up my maiden name meaning–keeper of the garden–and the three of us were kind of blown away. How crazy was it that I married this man whose name so easily coincides with the meaning of mine?

When I mulled it over for significance (because I just can’t not look for significance in things that seem to hold some sort of weight), I realized this seeming gender-role reversal in our name meanings works. As wife, it’s my job to honor my husband. I can protect him and our marriage by respecting him and making sure his needs are taken care of. But good news, I don’t only see it as my duty to take care of his needs because my doing so motivates him to reciprocate, and visa-verse.

What really struck me is how something as simple as our name meanings caused me to think of our marriage in a different way. So being intentional about what our children’s names mean became sort of a personal mission for me.

A name doesn’t necessarily make us who we are or even effectively describe us, but they can be significant. I can’t make my child’s name significant, but I can make sure we give her a good one. And maybe one day it will mean even more than we ever intended.

For now, I obsess over what to name her (I want to know what to call her!). From my perspective, she already has a name, we just don’t know it yet. I guess we wait until we see her face–I’m sure we’ll just know.


If you’re a name nerd like me, or if you’re looking for a good resource for names for your own baby, one website I’ve really enjoyed is Name Voyager.* It has a graph that shows the popularity of any name over the last several decades, and you can become a member for access to more information. It also has a nifty tool where you can rate a name based on several categories and see the average results from other users to see what kind of impression the name gives people.

*I promise I’m not getting paid in any way to endorse this website. I’ve found it as the most handy resource in baby name research, and I’m maybe a little bit obsessed with using it now.

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