Today, friends, we are going to talk about the tragedy of missed opportunities, as well as how to avoid making our children miserable. (At least until they become teenagers, and then LIFE IS PAIN no matter what.) In other words, we’re going to discuss the life-altering, cannot-be-over-stated, utterly vital importance of NAMES.
One year, 3 months, and some-odd days ago, I missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. J and I were filling out our marriage paperwork, and the powers that be wanted to know what I’d call myself after we got hitched. I already knew I wanted to take J’s surname and be Jennie Saia, but one question lingered… what about the middle name? I know some ladies, especially here in the South, move their maiden name to the middle name’s place of honor. Jennie Louise Orcutt could have become Jennie Orcutt Saia, ridding me of that pesky “Louise” forever.
But I wasn’t that much more connected to “Orcutt,” and – as J pointed out – I could also shoot for the stars, taking on the sparkly glory of some new and amazing middle name. “For example, ” he said, lips pulled back in a smirk, “You could be Jennie Khaleesi Saia.”
Dear reader, in the moment, I grinned and shrugged. Shrugged like it wasn’t a thing, muttering about it seeming ungrateful to disown two of the three names my parents had given me in one fell swoop, and I signed off on Jennie Louise Saia. The thing is, since that day, I have serious regrets about not being braver. I shouldn’t have shrugged it off! I could have been anyone! Jennie Darling Saia. Jennie Awesomesauce Saia. I’ll never be in a field where my middle name matters, and I really think I passed up the chance to be as cool as my eight-year-old self always hoped I’d be when I grew up.
I could have been a khaleesi.
Since this article about the name Khaleesi trending for actual babies came out a month ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to choose a name for someone. It’s so intimate, so presumptuous, to select the title a human being you’ve never met will go by for a lifetime. And yet, we have to call our spawn something. And the thing is, while I genuinely, not-ironically-in-any-way, wish I’d appointed myself Mother of (Dog)ons, I’d never, EVER lay that hot mess on an innocent child.
When I was in high school, I thought Jennie was a boring name. I love it now, but then, I was tired of telling people how to spell it, and there were too many other Jenn-ie/y/ifers at school for my comfort. I tried exceptionally hard, for about a week, to convince all my friends and teachers to call me Bubbles instead. Yeah, you read that right. Learn from my naiveté. When my request was inevitably shot down in a stream of burning fire-laughter, I gave up on choosing my own nickname and relied instead on the dubious kindness of others. For a while, when I worked the front desk at a Sheraton, I was tickled pink to be called Smiley by the cute FedEx delivery guy. Later, my best friend started calling me Pixie in our written correspondence, and that pleased me even more. But I also suffered, along with many of my female peers, the terrible weight of unwanted nickname shame.
Jennie Orcutt? More like Jennie WHORE-cutt, amiright?! Cue my infinite blushing as I scurried away down the hall to math class. At least I didn’t suffer alone – I was surrounded by girls with seemingly innocuous but easy-to-rhyme names, and also by very mean boys. The last name Licciardi became La-Farty, Ofalt morphed into HO-falt, and poor Sharon Head never stood a chance.
My end game here is to demonstrate that the name you give your child matters. It matters a lot. And, while there’s not much you can do about the surname situation, you can avoid things like giving your daughter with the last name Stipe the first names Adrianne and Sarah, because the initials A.S.S. don’t make anyone’s L.L.Bean book bag look good.
I don’t have a lot of great advice about how to actually pick a solid name for your progeny (or even for your stuffed animals; mine were all called things like Stripe-y and Elephant-y), but Rebecca Woolf from Girl’s Gone Child has the experience and the heart to wax eloquent about it. I fully hope to mimic her thought process when it comes to making a choice for my hypothetical kids.
In the meantime, my brother and sister-in-law are procreating like crazy, and I’ve had to make some moves to put a few names on lock. Their first-born son was crowned with the glorious name Liam, which I’d been holding close to my chest for years. It was gone in the blink of an eye, and now my son will have to be a Leo. (Which is still pretty rad – both my husband and his father are astrological Leos. Also: who’s gonna mess with a kid named Leo on the playground? “What, I’m a bad-ass carnivore crowned the King of the Beasts?! You got NOTHING.”) But anyway, when my nephew’s parents started producing girls, I showed my hand. I let them know that Gwen is my name, and so is Tess, and they can have any other names in the whole world except those two. Why? For starters, I have used the name “Gwen” in every adventure/video game I’ve ever played, so that little girl will already have had a lifetime of exploring and saving the world before she even existed. No way I’m giving that name up.
So, what do y’all think? How can you predict what horrible things your child might be called and head the nicknames off at the pass? What names do you like or did you use? And – most crucially – what would you change your middle name to, if you had the chance?