Evidence that there are all kinds of ways to choose baby names

One remarkable fact about my mother, who took her own life at thirty-one after years of alcoholism, and was in most respects disorganised and chaotic, is that she named all four of her offspring before birth. We all had a name ready-made, whether a boy or girl. 

It's one of the few positive memories I have of her parenting. But you have to suck the juice out of some situations. 

So efficient! That's the birth-name equivalent of having everything in labelled Tupperware, arranged on your kitchen shelves in size order. I can assure you, my mother's kitchen did not look like this. So, she wasn't consistent, but the name idea counts in her favour. 

Here's how it worked. 

I am Frances. If a boy, I would have been Francis. 

My brother was named Leslie. He would have been Lesley.

My sister was Christine. She would have been Christopher.

My younger sister was Michaela. She would have been Michael.

Have you ever heard of anyone else doing this? Usually, you hear people say, 'Oh, we've decided on Peter if it's a boy and Louise if a girl.' Not Peter/Petra or Louise/Louis. 

My brother Leslie was adopted by another couple as a baby and they changed his name to Kevin. This broke the pattern somewhat. I'm sure they never said, 'If we'd adopted a girl, we'd have called her Kevina.' 

People constantly spell my name wrong, thinking it 'Francis'. 'Tell them,' my mum used to say to me, 'that it's 'i' for an 'im and 'e' for an 'er.'

This is also in her favour. Moments of wise advice like this weren't abundant. 




It's difficult, the name-choosing (and if your baby is born with its head floating above its neck like the one in that picture, I'd imagine it's hard to concentrate on the process).

My husband and I called our oldest child Sarah because we were by the canal one day leaning on a wall when I was heavily pregnant. We heard a mother affectionately calling after her child. 'Sarah, come over here. Sarah!' 

'I like Sarah,' I said. 'If we have a girl, let's call her Sarah.'

And that was that. 

Our son, Christopher, who would have been called something else had my sister Christine been born a boy, soon got his name shortened to Chris, mainly by his infant school teacher, Mrs Jefferies. 'You have given your child a very long name,' she said, disapprovingly. 'When he writes it on his pieces of work it takes him ages and he's late for breaktime.'

Infant school teachers - quite scary when they want to be. I nearly put my hands on my head and said my five times table.

So, Chris, he became, and has been since unless he's naughty, and even at 34, he has his moments that make it necessary.

When we had our third child, whom we called Anna, and she arrived at the same school, with the same teacher, Mrs Jefferies stopped me one afternoon as I picked Anna up from school. 'I am so grateful to you,' she said, patting me as though I were the class rabbit. 'After all that trouble with Christopher, you gave your daughter a name which is a palindrome, and it doesn't matter which way round she writes it, she gets it correct.'

I wanted to say to her, 'That's why, as she emerged from the uterus, and I gave the last agonising push, I told my husband, "Let's lower Mrs Jefferies' blood pressure and give the baby a palindromic name".' 

The truth was, Anna's older sister Sarah chose 'Anna' because she there was a girl at school called Anna and she liked the name. 

Also, I was all for calling the new baby girl Mary but no one else in the household liked this idea. She has it as a middle name as a compromise and she's never liked it although my Catholic father-in-law did and called her Anna Maria. He had hopes for her as a nun, I think. 

Both Sarah and Christopher had ideas for the new baby's name, in fact. Sarah's was more socially acceptable. 

Christopher, who was four when the new baby was born, said, 'Can we call her Nougat?' He pronounced it 'nugget', not the posh French way. It was one of his favourite sweets and we often brought nougat home after holidays. You know, the pink and white type that comes in a bar and, when you bite into it, stretches on for miles until you run out of arm.

A lady at our church heard him say this about calling the baby Nougat. 'Oh, how sweet!' she gushed. 'What a lovely idea, calling your little baby sister after a piece of gold. Something precious and valuable!' She beamed.

We didn't like to tell her the truth. 'Ah yes, he's a love,' I said.





If you have children, how did you choose their names? Can anyone claim to have used a) my mother's method or b) named their child after confectionery?







Comments

  1. That's both very funny and very poignant, Fran. I loved it. But I love all your blogs. OK. You did ask. When I was great with child with number one, I became convinced it was a girl. So it was to be named Katherine Abigail the minute it emerged. This it did, and turned out to be a boy. Our only boy name, James Alexander, just didn't fit. The confused looking little ginger haired chap lying there wasn't a James. So he was nameless for three days until the Bounty lady said, "And what's this little one's name?" prior to snapping him for a gorgeous baby photo and we blurted out, "Alexander Matthew". Alex he is. Baby number two I just knew was a boy and we had three potential names for him. James Robert (see what we did there? Name recycling), Robert James or Joshua James. When he emerged, we weren't quite sure and spent three weeks trying to work out what he should be called to my mother's fury. "People keep asking me what he's called! We never had all this nonsense in my day." Eventually, we plumped for Robert James but he's always called Robbie. Baby number three I knew was a girl, because I didn't have my tinned sardine craving. And so she was. Abigail had fallen by the wayside, so several weeks before her birth propped up in bed supping tea, we said, "I suppose we should think what to call the baby." We agreed on Katherine (Katie to be the every day name) and my husband petitioned for Victoria while I favoured Diana after my best friend. We compromised and gave her both names. One of these days, I must tell you the story of my poor grandmother and how she got her name.

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    1. I wonder if anyone's written a book collecting all these 'how we named the baby' stories. They are all so unique to each family! Loved the way you knew Katie was a girl ... the tinned sardine craving!

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  2. I would LOVE to read a book on how we named the baby. When I was a child, I had very fancy names chosen for my future children. Thank goodness I grew up and forgot them. my first child became Tracey, her father insisted and would not be budged. Second child was a boy and I wasn't allowed to use my favourite boy names because hubby thought they were the names of old boyfriends, which wasn't true, so he was named Matthew. Third was a girl and was named Kathryn because one of his younger sisters, (also a Kathy but Kathleen) complained once that no one ever named a baby after her, this was after a run of "something" Ann's after a Carol Ann, so my Kathryn had Kathy's initials, K L. Last child was named James and my mum was so pleased that I'd remembered my stepfather Jimmy, which I hadn't, I just liked the name, but his middle names are for both his grandfathers. Like myself, I have two middle names, one for each grandmother.

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    1. River, that's such a fascinating account! And funny :) Did you ever confess to your mum that James wasn't named after Jimmy at all?

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    2. No, but then later I had to keep reminding her to call him James not Jamie.

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  3. I named our daughter Jennifer after a friend that I had at Primary school - I admired her for her gorgeous dark curly hair which our little girl was born with lots of. Her dad, of Catholic upbringing, liked the name Mary - so that became her middle name. 2 years before our son was born, I had a dream about holding a baby boy called Samuel. Then when I got pregnant two years later, my hubby was convinced it was twins and had the names Judah and Levi lined up. It turned out to be one boy and, after telling hubby about the dream, we named the baby Samuel and gave him the names of his 2 grandfathers as middle names - Edward and Victor. But when people asked him what his name was when he was little , he used to say he was called Dinner Dinner Batman!

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    1. Ha ha - I love your Samuel. After all that thought you put into it, he chooses his own identity!

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  4. I was named Janet because my father was away at the war when Mum was pregnant. She wrote him a letter suggesting "Jane"as a name, he misread it and answered that he thought " Janet was a very good name.
    As far as Francis goes. My husband's grandparent were all four immigrants from Lithuania about 100 years ago. So grandpa had a long Lithuanian name. Before he married he decided to legally change it by rotating middle and last names. We were constantly getting Francis spelled as Frances or being asked which it was but that all changed when the present pope arrived on the scene. Now everyone gets it right.

    We named our daughter by choosing our favorite two girls' names and referring to her (in utero) by each in turn to see which we preferred. Jan F

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    1. I am so glad I wrote this post. Everyone's stories are so fascinating to me. Thanks for the tip though - I will now say 'Frances as in Not the Pope'.

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  5. After a few days of thinking I named my daughter Susan. Later found out that the Queen's first Corgi was named Susan. Perfect for me. Now I tell everyone my daughter was named after the Queen's Corgi.
    My Susan is not amused.

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    1. I can imagine Susan not taking it as a huge compliment, yes!

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  6. When expecting my first child in the mid 1980s (so not THAT long ago) my father really couldn't understand why I was even debating names: first son should be named after paternal grandfather, second son after maternal etc etc We're Irish but I think this naming system was pretty common in many cultures as anyone who has researched their family tree probably knows. Of course, I took no notice of my Dad and he didn't mind a bit. One of the consequences is the creation of nicknames or using the second name as their regular name which can lead to all sorts of problems for later generations...I use an exercise about the names you've been called as a writing exercise - especially useful if you are planning to write a memoir or a biography of your family.

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    1. That's so interesting, Bridget. I'd heard of that naming policy - paternal grandfather, etc - but had forgotten. I don't think it would work today with our more flexible attitudes to family! I think names are fascinating and, yes, a great basis for writing. I wonder how it would work if one wrote in different 'voices' - for instance, I could write as Fran, Mum, Grandma, Fran Hill Writer, Mrs Hill the teacher.

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  7. Such a great read! Poignant and humorous. Your mother's method is really quite astounding when you think about it and actually very sensible. We chose Matthew because we liked the sound of it, it's in the bible and it means 'gift from God'. I wanted Polly because I loved Eleanor Porter's book as a child but Steve said it sounded like a parrot. We agreed on the full version - Pollyanna - in the end. She hated her name as a child. There were no other Pollyannas. She loves it now. People still exclaim, 'What a beautiful name'!

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    1. Thanks for reading! I agree - Pollyanna is a lovely name. Glad to hear she's come round to it!

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  8. We called our first Kirsten because we made the mistake of checking with the grandparents and this was the only girl's name that no one disliked. Then our second was Laura because obviously there was no other girl's name that no one disliked and I'd always liked the name and it was quite unusual - until Laura was born in 1981, whereupon everyone else called their daughter Laura as well. Then our son is Peter because I'd always said that I'd call my son after my brother Peter. But by this time, brother Peter had acquired a brother-in-law Peter, so another Peter seemed too much and we decided to call baby 3 (if a boy) Michael just because we liked it. But brother Peter protested that I'd always been going to call my son Peter. So we did. And it's been very confusing ever since. As retribution, my brother is now known to his great-nephews and nieces as Guppie, short for Great Uncle Peter, so as to differentiate him from our son, Uncle Peter.

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    1. My goodness, this is a story all of its own. So funny.

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