Last Friday Daniel, Raymond, and I went to my doctor’s appointment and heard the ultrasound tech say these words: it’s a girl! Daniel and I had said that we wouldn’t care what sex the baby is (and I really believe that’s true), but we were pretty excited about this news for multiple, multiple reasons. One of them is that that we’ve had a girl name picked out in the Event of a Girl since my first pregnancy.
This is actually a big deal for us. I’ll tell you why.
First, I’m not someone who's dreamed of naming my child the same name since I was a child. In fact, if I look back over that long list of names that I’ve dreamed about, most of them now make me laugh, or marvel at what I was drawn to at that particular moment in time to make that particular name sound like the name for my offspring.
The first name I remember loving is Felicity Autumn. She would probably look like Keri Russell and love Autumn. The second name I remember is Daphne. She would probably be British. Sophia would probably play the violin and tell me that my jeans didn’t fit properly. And so on.
But the name we’ll be giving our third baby has held my interest and adoration for nearly five years now, and it’s partially because I love it and it reminds me of my childhood, and it’s partially because I’ve become convinced that picking out a baby name with my partner is one of the most challenging exercises we will undertake as a couple and when you find a name you can agree on, that’s it, that’s the one, no more talking. Picking out a baby name requires so much compromise. It involves so much diplomacy (on my part. Maybe on his part too, although that’s doubtful. Daniel isn't much for diplomacy). It necessitates frequently hearing the word “no” or its counterparts (an astonished laugh; an “are you serious?!”) or sometimes just an attractive bug-eyed stare (like your partner just started pulling down his or her pants in a Food City).
It’s more challenging than determining the temperature of the car for road trips. Or the radio station. What color you should paint your spare bathroom. How you should save money for your kids. Etc. etc.
This is where I should probably say something like: it’s hard finding a name that both people like. And this is true for probably every couple. But you all. Another truth is that my beloved husband—who is incredibly kind and thoughtful, extremely smart and handsome, etc.—is also brutally honest about his likes and dislikes (but only when you ask him for his opinion, a necessity when picking a name), and he happens to dislike most names. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he happens to dislike most names I throw out there.
I would characterize my naming preference as mostly Classic Book, supplemented with some I Casually Knew a Person Named This and They Were Attractive and Charismatic in Some Kinda Way. Daniel’s is largely: I Browsed Every Branch of my Danish-American Family Tree and This is What I Like. These two categories sometimes overlap, but not often. At all.
I don’t fault Daniel for wanting a family name. In fact, I think it’s lovely to name a baby after a cherished family member. But sometimes, and I say this with so much love, family names aren’t great. Including my own. Sometimes they’re amazing. But I repeat, sometimes family names aren’t great. Sometimes you can’t imagine yelling them across a playground, for example. Or hearing them at a high school graduation and recognizing them as your child. Or seeing them penciled in on a Scantron. Or associating them with the baby growing in your belly.
The fact is that baby-naming is a historic challenge for Daniel and I, starting when I was pregnant with Sam. Gather round and I’ll tell you a story:
We ran through a long list of names and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my beloved husband rejected nearly every one. But somehow Samuel made the cut for both of us.
There was another contender, though. A long-held name in Daniel’s family that Daniel really wanted, and that I didn’t connect with at all. It just didn’t feel like a name that I would ordinarily name my child, and that felt really important to me. (I’m not sharing the name out of respect for my husband and his family, because it’s a good name, it just wasn’t the one I would choose).
I began imagining a future Samuel, and probably Daniel began imagining a future x. As the time grew closer, Daniel said I could name the baby whatever I wanted, but that just didn’t feel right to me either, mostly because I knew how much he had become invested in his name. How could I ask him to give up something he felt so strongly about (even though I had made him aware of my reservations from the beginning)? But I didn’t want to give mine up either.
This is probably where you're frustrated with me, and I don’t blame you. What did you want, Jessica? Here’s what I wanted: Daniel to say, I’ve changed my mind about my name entirely and I would pick your name, Jessica.
Dear Reader, this was not going to happen.
After the first day in the hospital, and hearing repeatedly that we should pick a name, I suggested to Daniel that he should flip a coin. We assigned sides for each name and he flipped the quarter…so hard that it bounced off the ceiling tile—knocking it awry in the process—and was never seen again. Or maybe it was seen again, by some excited soul who had no idea that it was actually a very significant quarter for our family.
So then we drew names. Twice.
Samuel it was, and I was struck anew with the beauty of the name and the rightness of it.
The second time around, I was feeling so tender-hearted about our first naming debacle that I gave Daniel 51% naming rights for the baby’s first name if it was a boy. This was a risk but I think it paid off. We settled on Raymond, another family name of Daniel’s that was not one in serious contention the first go-round, and a name that I grew to love.
But I grew smarter, and stronger, and before we even tried to have the third baby, I claimed 100% naming rights on the whole name. I can name the baby anything I want, and that power has me feeling a little bit like a villain in a Marvel movie, flush with power and set on taking over the world, and a little like Leslie Knope with a binder full of possibilities.
Now could be my chance for Felicity Autumn or Daphne or Sophia. Maybe Maggie Rose, a name I loved in my early 20s.
But I’m not going that far back in my roots.
We’ll be using the only name to make it successfully through three rounds of vetting, and we’re super excited about it.
This post was meant to be a little joking, a little serious. Obviously we are primarily grateful to be having a third child, period, and even more grateful that so far everything indicates our baby is healthy and safe. But I’m also a little grateful that I have 100% naming rights. Is that so wrong?
Q: Tell me about your baby-naming experience!
*This title was inspired by Christina Lauren’s lovely Love and Other Words. Read it and weep! Literally. But also smile.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.