Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Naming Number Two

Naming Number Two
Rebecca Ryan Hunter

Like many pregnant women, I spend a large amount of my time thinking about names for my baby. What seemed like an easy task when I was seven has become incredibly complex, guided by our own rules, multi-ethnic naming patterns, and cultural expectations. The difficulty level of this trick has increased significantly because this is our second child and we have once again elected to unwrap our present at the birth. We have a list of no less than twenty rules.

From the Irish side of our families, there is a precedent of naming after a family member. First-born sons should be named after the paternal grandfather. There are complex Irish rules about second-born sons and daughters that end up with a situation wherein a family can have parents named Patrick and Mary who have 7 kids named Patrick, Padraig, Mary, Paddy, Marie, Pat, and Mairaed but since we’re only having two, I can ignore the entire process.

My mother is Jewish and her mother named her children after deceased loved ones, as is the custom. I feel personally close to this tradition for one reason or another and favor the idea of naming only after someone who has passed away. However, like many (quasi) Jews, I am incredibly flexible with the notion of what it means to name someone after someone else.

My husband’s father is African-American and while his family had no specific naming traditions, my husband is very conscious of names that seem to be unused infrequently by African-Americans. He dislikes names that are too specific to ethnic groups.

Add to this existing (and conflicting) ethnic structure, we have a daughter already. She was named after her paternal grandfather Marvinus Joseph. Her name is Margaret Josephine. It’s Irish but not exclusively Irish, it’s honoring a deceased loved one, it’s kind of in line with the Irish rule about grandparents. It worked as well as it could have, given that two ethnic traditions diametrically oppose one another.

So now we have a Maggie. And when we pair it with any number of names, it becomes “too something.” Too Irish, too bland, too yuppie, too British (the horror!), or too cutesy. Everything gets tested together now.

“Love, Maggie and Ed” (Too bland – who are these people? Retirees?)
“This is Maggie and this is Molly.” (Too cutesy.)
“Margaret and Charles” (What are we? The royal family?)
“MAGGIE AND COLE STOP PLAYING WITH THE STARBUCKS MUGS” (Too yuppie, and why are we in Starbucks anyway?)
“I’m taking Maggie and Tadhg to see the Saw Doctors today.” (Okay, so this one doesn’t bother me at all since I happen to not mind the over-Irishness but my husband seems to have some problem with sounding too Irish.)

I obsess. When we take long car trips and run out of things to talk about, we bring up names. “How about Noroton?” “Honeyspot Hunter?” “How about Saybrook?” Outside of Route 95, they don’t seem appropriate. We watch film credits, flip through our favorite books, make lists of dead relatives. I worry about how their name will look on their resume, if they will be taunted in school, if they will hate me for it…my neuroses are endless.

And yet, in the end, after all my careful analysis, careful thinking about how the child might potentially answer his or her office phone in twenty years, respect to our families, and so forth, I come back to the idea that the child will let me know it’s name when it gets here. Make a list of a few potential names, like them enough to shout them from your stoop, and let it come to you after the birth. In that moment after birth when there are only three people existing in the world, in that moment where time stands still and the earth stops moving, if you listen very carefully, the child will let you know.

This won’t stop my obsessing. I love the game, I love toying with name as identity concepts, I love thinking about my ancestors, I love the process. But in the end, the child will tell me. And for all my strict rules and regulations, sometimes the best process is no process at all but a bit of mysticism.

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