A baba by any other name

Some women have dreamed about their wedding day since they were little girls plonked in front of the TV for Loving and Santa Barbara on OpenTime (if they grew up in SA in the 80s, of course). Me, I’ve been dreaming about what I’d name a little baby girl basically since I was a little baby girl.

I didn’t realise how weird that was until I just saw it written down.

Anyway, I now feel like I’ve finally arrived – the way those little Loving fans must feel when they’re all grown up and they hear ‘Here Comes the Bride’ playing on their own wedding day. I finally get to name a baby. For reals.

But like so many things that I’ve looked forward to for ages (eating pizza in Rome, kissing with tongue, my first overseas flight, reading Mrs Dalloway), the actual experience is proving to be a lot less exciting than I imagined.

First, there’s the pesky business of having to consult with a husband about it. I kind of hoped that the ‘I have to carry this baby for 9 months, so I’m damn well going to be the one to choose the name!’ argument would work. It didn’t.

Then, the names that I’ve loved for a long time somehow seem wrong for this baby. I’ve had to accept the fact that I’m not renaming myself, or naming a fictional character – I’m giving a name to an actual human person who will have to carry that name with her for her whole life. Russell Hoban says in Kleinzeit that people’s names live longer than they do (he says it in a much fancier, cleverer, more beautiful way – something about names being like boats floating along a stream for infinity). Think about the people you know who’ve died. Their names still exist, right? Their names never disappear.

Which is why choosing the right name is so frikken important and why it’s taking such a long time to find it.

Another issue with girls’ names is that you have to make sure they’re strong/robust enough to hold up to being the name of a CEO or high-powered executive. Boys’ names tend to be strong by default. You can’t imagine a woman called ‘Poppy’ or ‘Bella’ being taken seriously as a businesswoman, can you? But you don’t actually want to give your girl a boy’s name. Like Petah. That’s just odd.

Names I used to love:

  • Riley. Which now sounds too much like an adverb. As in, ‘She smiled wryly’. Same pronunciation. Dammit.
  • Mackenzie. According to Dylan (and our ob/gyn, bizarrely): too trendy. And then I started thinking that it would be awful if she turned out to be a big girl – not unlikely – and people started calling her Big Mac. *cringe*
  • Harper. I love the literary connection but can’t help imagining her classmates calling her Harpy.
  • Willow. I agree with Dylan – it’s beautiful – for someone else’s child.

Dylan’s taste in names is much more traditional in mine. Where my priority was to avoid naming the baby anything that would lead to her being So-and-So 1 or (heaven forbid) So-and-So 2 at school, Dylan’s one condition is that he doesn’t want a name that he’s never heard or seen before. Which means there’s a very tiny area where our taste in names overlaps.

Names Dylan wanted but which I vetoed:

  • Jessica. Pretty in full, but most Jessica’s end up being called ‘Jess’. If I wanted a girl called ‘Jess’, I’d just name her ‘Jess’, wouldn’t I?
  • Gabrielle/Gabriella. Ditto for Gabby.
  • Ella. I love this name A LOT but it’s weird with a surname that also starts with an ‘E’.

We might have finally settled on one over the last few days, but I don’t want to share it in case someone tells me how they knew someone with that name and they were really fat/ugly/mean/pimply/insane.

But I wouldn’t mind some suggestions. If you can think of a girl’s name that is not too common but also not too weird/made-up-sounding, a name that is strong but not too boyish, and, if possible, has a literary connection (my preference) and/or three syllables (Dylan’s), please share it. The baby names book is good on the whole but a personal recommendation is always nice.

The second-and-third name debate is the subject of a whole ‘nother post. Don’t even get me started.

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35 Comments

  1. I have always liked Page for some reason.

    Reply
    • I also really like Paige! It’s my half-sister’s second name, and my good friend’s daughter’s second name, too. It’s a really soft, gentle name.

      Reply
  2. Mainly just saying this because it’s funny:
    Vanessa – 3 syllables and was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift for Esther Vanhomrigh…
    so you have the literary connection too!
    But in all seriousness- good luck I can imagine it is VERY tough!

    Reply
    • Vanessa is a very pretty, strong-sounding name. Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind! šŸ™‚ I know another of our friends who is dead set on the name if she ever has a little girl! I didn’t know Jonathan Swift invented it.

      I don’t know how your folks feel about people calling you ‘Van’ but that would be the only thing that would make me wonder about it. I’m wary of names that lend themselves too easily to nicknames. Like Michelle – Mich – Mich Fish – Fish Face. That’s what happens. šŸ˜›

      Reply
  3. Robust

     /  November 17, 2011

    This falls seriously out of my domain, but I have always been partial to Elizabeth. But I think this is because you can shorten it down to ‘Liz’ (and we both know why I would like that).

    But now that I think about it, you don’t actually want to be thinking of Tiny Fey everytime you call your daughters name? I think for me that would always stick. I would probably end up calling my child ‘Lemon’.

    Likewise I’ve always been partial to Hunter as a second name for a boy, but the older I get I have realised that I don’t want to be calling my child after a drug-crazed, irrational, schizophrenic and cynical journalist who shot himself.

    I realise I have been no help here. Good luck.

    Reply
    • OMG! I used to love Hunter too, and went off it for exactly the same reason! I don’t even like his writing that much, though, so I guess it was a strange choice for me.

      I also like Elizabeth, and would also end up calling her ‘Lemon’. Not great.

      It’s a good thing it’s not you and me trying to name a baby together. We’d be hopeless!

      Reply
  4. Ja I know what you mean. I actually only started getting called Van in Matric and I never introduce myself as Van to new people. I like my name though which is good thing I guess- that’s important when naming someone.

    Reply
  5. I’v always loved strong names which is far easier for boys. My mum named me Kate and my sister Meg for the very same dislike of shortening names … What happened? People lengthen our names, all the time.

    Names I like:
    – Kia ( yes like the car, but I feel like its strong and feminine)
    – Elle ( double E again, but its cute and mature and let’s the owner decide)
    – Robyn (normal but not, can be shortened but quite like the Robyn Edwards ring??)
    – Lilly (slightly bookish, strong in a feminine way, iv known amazing lillys and I also like the ring of it, plus love that you can shorten this to lil, so affectionate and genuine sounding)…

    Hope that helps šŸ˜‰

    Reply
    • Nice! I do like Elle and have also always liked Lily/Lilly. Robyn does work well with the surname – most names that end in ‘n’ do – Dylan’s whole immediate family have names that end in ‘n’.

      Thanks for the suggestions! I will have to chuck Lily back into the pot! šŸ™‚

      Reply
  6. Andrea

     /  November 17, 2011

    I love Cameron, for a boy or a girl, and it has three syllables, and it’s shortened to Cammy or Cam, which are quite nice.

    I like my own name too – think my folks did a good job there, and I like the abbreviations too – Andy, Annie šŸ™‚ My sister’s name is Rosemary, which I think is so so pretty, but unfortunately it evoked a lot of ‘Rosie, posie, pudding and pie’ when she was little… shame, because it’s lovely.

    Must be so exciting to choose names! šŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Me too – I was set on Camryn for a while, until I read that it means ‘crooked nose’. I love the abbreviation ‘Cam’, though.

      I also went through a ‘Rosemary’ stage – I think it’s due to make a come-back. There’s a really cool song by Interpol that features a Rosemary – that’s what got me started on it. I think kids will make silly nicknames out of everything, so it’s hard to choose a name that is nickname- or association-less.

      It is exciting – but it’s a lot of pressure! Like most things about expecting a kid, I guess.

      Reply
      • Andrea

         /  November 17, 2011

        Oh dear, the meaning thing… I loved ‘Rebecca’ till I found it meant ‘cow’ or something… I think the lovely ‘Rachel’ also has a rather banal meaning if I’m not mistaken.

        My name sadly means ‘manly’ because it’s actually a guy’s name (like Andrea Bocelli, and comes from the same root as android, androgynous etc… great!), but I’ve seen it translated elsewhere as ‘courageous’ or ‘womanly’… haha.

        You’re right about the silly nickname thing. My sister calls herself Rose nowadays, which I think is pretty too, but I like the full name.

  7. Andrea

     /  November 17, 2011

    I could definitely be wrong about the meaning of Rebecca, in case any Rebeccas out there get offended… just remember it had a weird meaning šŸ™‚ And hey, my name means ‘manly’.

    Reply
  8. vicky

     /  November 17, 2011

    I like Logan.
    I knew a great logan in the states, but he was a guy. Then I heard someone say their sister stole their baby girl name- Logan. Now I can’t stop thinking about how cool it would be for a girl. Strong sounding too me thinks. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Very American, but it works! It’s quite sexy actually… hmmm… don’t yell at me if I steal it! šŸ˜‰

      Reply
  9. Ah damn I love the name Rebecca! šŸ˜¦

    Reply
  10. Gnome

     /  November 17, 2011

    I’ve always quite liked Kathleen, but then I was put off it by an insane sister-in-law (now EX sister in law, thank god.) I also like Hannah, and Claire (which means light). Or Sophie/Sophia, for wisdom.
    If I had a daughter I’d call her Charlotte.
    Looking at this list, apparently I also like old-fashioned names šŸ™‚

    Reply
    • Charlotte is beautiful – it means petite and feminine. Dylan is keen on the nickname Charlie for a girl. Charlotte is definitely in the running. But I don’t want to steal your favourite name! šŸ™‚ Funny that Claire means ‘light’. So does Helen, and all variations of it (Ellen, Elena, Helena, etc).

      Reply
      • Gnome

         /  November 17, 2011

        Haha – steal away; Charlotte is not a good name for dogs or potplants, which are about the extent of my maternal leanings right now šŸ™‚ (Unless maybe I got a really really posh dog, like an Afghan Hound or a Dalmatian.) Oooh I like Helen or Helena too. Also Heather. How will you ever choose? Your kid is going to need at least eight names.

  11. Jenni

     /  November 17, 2011

    Have u ever thought about waiting to see what she looks like? I know u need some idea before then, but seeing a face and realising who that is, is quite powerful…

    Reply
    • I’d like to have one name that we’re set on, and an Option B, just in case she really doesn’t look like our first choice. But my opinion is that pretty much all newborns look the same. And the tiny newborn baby isn’t really who we’re naming – it’s the little person she will become. I think people come to embody their names as they grow.

      Reply
  12. Jenni

     /  November 17, 2011

    And wow man, Miche – we all didn’t think too hard in those days, an’ all seems to have turned out ok. Remember – u have no idea what her surname will be when she gets married…. šŸ˜›

    Reply
    • Lol

       /  November 17, 2011

      Ooo, this is so much fun!! I love Scarlett – makes me think of that hot Johansson woman! I also like names that you can’t really abbrev too easily – the kid will end up with lots of different nick names from different people. I have a long list of boys names i like but girls seem to be a little harder! Got to go with Lindiwe or Pumla for 3rd name ; ) xxxxxxx

      Reply
      • Lol

         /  November 17, 2011

        Sorry, dont think i was suppose to ‘reply’ – i just dont know how to leave a comment?!!!!

      • No, you’re good, Lol! šŸ™‚ I also like Scarlett. I do want a Seffrican name as 2nd or 3rd name … isn’t your 4th name Pumla?

  13. Lesley A

     /  November 17, 2011

    All so exciting Mich! But baby names are hard work… kids are very far off my radar at the moment (and likely to stay that way) but if it’s one thing that irks me beyond belief is the trends that stem from celeb baby names! I can’t handle how some movie star or whoever has her baby, names it something weird and suddenly there are a million more babies with that same name. I’m just waiting for Beyonce’s sprout to be born and given a name like ‘Starr’ or something. I think Harper is a gorgeous name, but now old Mrs Beckham has gone and stolen it for her daughter. I’m sure you’ll pick something sensible – I always just think of the playground rule, and what other kids would say to or call your kiddy. Good luck šŸ™‚

    Reply
    • I’m hoping that people forget about the Beckham ‘Harper’ – her 2nd name is ‘Seven’ and that’s what everyone seems fixated on for now…

      Reply
  14. Claire

     /  November 17, 2011

    Claire, now that’s a lovely name! Good point about the surname. She might end up with some four syllable double-barelled surname and then she’ll appreciate a short first name.

    Reply
    • Yes, it’s hard with girls because you don’t know what surname they’ll end up with. Although of course I’m hoping she’s more of a feminist than her mother and decides to keep her maiden name (or do the ultimate feminist thing and change her surname to a double-barrel of mine and Dylan’s!)

      Reply
  15. Jona and Shannon

     /  November 18, 2011

    Expanding on our earlier suggestions:
    Girl name: JoShannon
    Boy name: JonaShan

    Btw, amazing writing and great web site!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jona! High praise indeed, coming from you! šŸ™‚ I actually really like the name Shannon. JoShannon has a lovely ring to it! šŸ˜‰ As 2nd (3rd?) cousins to the baba, you guys have more clout than most people… šŸ™‚

      Reply
  16. Claire

     /  November 18, 2011

    My mum chose my name because you can’t shorten it, and I think it’s such a wonderful combo of feminine and strength. I also like Louise, which means warrior.
    Catherine is also a beautiful name, but it’s hugely popular at the moment (thanks to that British monarch many of our generation dreamt of marrying … at least I did. I even cooked up this elaborate story of how we’d meet…). Plus it can be shortened in so many names, and then it almost feels as if it’s no longer your name, know what I mean?
    I found it hard enough to name my pets, I might have to let Gareth choose the kids’ names one day…

    Reply
  17. Jenna

     /  December 13, 2011

    Just because I was reading this and thought I should comment even though you have probably already picked your name….I love Harper. Jen x

    Reply

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