What’s in a Baby Name?
I really was not caught up in the Royal Baby madness that just swept the country. I mean, I am happy for them and everything: healthy baby boy, yay! But I wasn’t waiting breathlessly for minute-by-minute news of Kate’s progress through labor. I don’t care even a little bit how much he weighed or whether she had an epidural, and I sure as hell don’t think she owed the public a glimpse of her newborn. What I was interested in was what they would name the new little prince – not because I care about royalty but because I care about names.
I am fascinated by naming trends and could easily lose days of my time on Baby Name Wizard. I am pretty sure this started back when my all-time idol Ann M. Martin of The Baby-sitters Club fame came to speak at my school and said that she always kept a baby name book handy for her picking out the names of characters. I had to be just like her, so I immediately purchased a baby name book with two weeks’ worth of allowance money and started reading it page by page as if it actually had a plot or something. I highlighted names I liked. I drew frowny faces by names that I couldn’t stand. I was hooked, and I was only 9.
I had names for my future children picked out by the time fourth grade ended – my daughter would be Persephone Sage; somehow my hypothetical future son escaped with the comparatively (and otherwise) normal name of Stuart Michael. By high school, I was still clinging tight to those two and had added October Elizabeth – we would call her Tobi – and Edward Scott – we would call him Teddy. I never had boys, and although I still think Persephone and October are interesting names, I did not bestow them on my daughters. (I actually know two Persephones, one January and a Tuesday, although I have never met an October.)
When I was in grad school, I made friends with a girl named Mary Beth who shared my obsession, and she and I spent many, many nights drinking too much wine and analyzing names. She supported Ruby as a potential future daughter’s name, although she gently talked me out of Eden as a middle name, steering me toward Grace despite its rising popularity. And I told her I thought Fiona would still be an OK name despite being one of the lead characters in Shrek. Above all, we wrung our hands over the possibility of ever having to put a last initial after our kids’ first names, of the name not being entirely original.
I grew up being the only Eve at my school, and although I longed to be named Jennifer when I was younger, I was fiercely protective of my name by the time I got to high school. My freshman year, I encountered another Eve for the first time, and it made me insane (more insane than a 14-year-old girl already is). I could have – should have – reached out to her, and we could have commiserated over a lifetime of “Where’s Adam?” jokes. Instead, we scowled at each other warily across our civics class, and when she switched schools junior year, I was way, way too pleased. I haven’t met another Eve since.
Now, though, whenever I encounter another Ruby, I get a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I haven’t met any other Georgias yet, but I must admit that I am slightly worried – because I am crazy – that the Royal Baby’s name, George, might inspire an uptick in Georgias. I feel so possessive of those names, even though I really like the other Rubys I know and their parents, too.
I think it’s possible, though, to go too far in the “originality” direction. I am all for unique names (see Persephone and October), but unique spellings drive the prescriptivist in me bananas. I am not talking about alternative spellings – I love the name Elinor, and I actually prefer it spelled that way over the more traditional Eleanor, and I am fine with Candace/Kandace/Candice and all of the spellings of Caitlyn, etc. – but I am a bit leery of taking a perfectly good name and spelling it a “new” way to be unique. It is still the same name – and just as popular – but now it is much more complicated for your child. I am not the baby name police or anything; name your baby whatever you want; spell it however you want; I don’t have a stake in it, really. It just worries me as a former journalism student who used to wake up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. wondering if I had fact-checked to make sure “Nora” wasn’t really “Norah.” One of the best things about Eve is that it is almost impossible to misspell (although I still get tons of things addressed to Eva).
Now that Ruby is in school, I love reading the weekly newsletter to see the names of the other kids. I love all of them: Hunter, Aidan, Bryah, Mae. But I must admit I was thrown for kind of a loop recently when Ruby got into the car after school with a huge Band-Aid on her knee.
“Oh, baby, what happened?”I asked.
“Karma,” she said solemnly.
“What?” I said, instantly alarmed. “Karma? What do you know about karma?”
“I know that she was falling off the balance beam at recess and grabbed onto my arm while she was falling and pulled me down with her, and I scraped my knee,” she said.
I just had to laugh. Karma is, apparently, a kindergartner. And I love that – even if it isn’t a name I ever encountered in the baby books way back when.