Damn It Feels Good To Be Khaleesi: A Jennie By Any Other Name

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?


36 responses to “Damn It Feels Good To Be Khaleesi: A Jennie By Any Other Name

  1. This was so great! Although, I’m going to have to disagree on Khaleesi. But that’s a whole other rant about book Daenerys.

    My sister and I are close in age and, although neither of us is married or procreating, we have definitely started putting certain names “on lock.” Although, I’m determined to have only sons, so I’m sure when I have three daughters the names I have picked out will be wildly inappropriate.

    • Oh, I really want to get into a good GoT debate with you! Funnily enough, I just read a comment on another article that any parent naming a child after Dany or Arya or really any GoT character is just courting disaster, since George Martin is so cruel with his creations that any one of them might go mad or suffer a horrible death in the very next book.

      Can I hear those son names your poor daughters will have to bear? 😉

      • Oh we can have a good ol’ GoT debate anytime! I’m a card carrying GoT geek and proud of it. I would totally name a girl Arya—but that is an excellent point. Although, my children will not be reading GoT any younger than I did. Which was a few years ago. haha

        I definitely want a Robert—Rob (my grandfather’s name, with a nice dose of GoT in there). Maybe she could be Roberta? I do like the name Liam, too. The others I can remember are Jackson, Alexander, Tristan, and my personal pet favorite, Maximilian. I’m pretty sure the last one will never happen.

  2. I always hated my last name growing up, but never really worried about the middle. I always wanted my first name to sound cooler than Ashley, and for whatever reason always thought about changing it to Lydia.

    Naming other humans is a hard process. We made a list of names, and then decided to wait until our kid was born to pick one. We ended up going with a name that wasn’t even on our list (Sonia Abigail), and it seems to suit her well. The only unanticipated problem is people who think the letters S and O together make a “Sah” sound rather than a “So” sound, and then call her Sahnia, which is weird and I hate it.

    • I like Lydia, but I like Ashley as well! My mom once informed me that I was thisclose
      to being “Annelise,” which for a while I wished had been the case, but now I’m deeply thankful wasn’t.

      Sonia is such a lovely name. I really enjoy names that work equally well in English and Spanish (my second language), and Sonia is one of them. A Spanish speaker would never butcher the “so” sound!

  3. I remember when I was a kid and I swore to my mother I would name my future Lucinda or Serena. …I’ve luckily had a change of heart, because my life isn’t a young adult novel about witches.

    My middle name is Eileen after my grandmother. When I get married, I think I’ll probably keep that and change my last name to whatever my husband’s is. Unless his last name is something like Nazi or Zyainfkvlakqitoksvjsukncjsidnnstz.

  4. I have kept my maiden surname and I hate it, I did it for papperwork reasons and I do plan on getting rid of it on first opportunity I get. Luckily, my relatives hate my name choices,so I am pritty safe from them stealing my future offspring names. They ofcourse hate my son’s name as well (Which is Seth… in Serbia… where most boys are named Marko, Milosh, Nikola, Aleksandar or if you still hold the old ages of this country not even having a city, Milojko). I think he loves his name, but midn you, it might be because we always add Sir in front of it when addressing him.
    I enjoyed reading your musings.

    • I very much like the name Seth. I think it’s hard to find names for boys that are strong but also gentle, without being too traditional or too off-the-wall (which, at least personally, is what I’m looking for). I know it’s hard to break family tradition, though. And sometimes, even when you try to honor someone by passing their name along, it still backfires. My grandmother was unhappy that my mom chose to pass on to me her middle name (Louise) instead of her first name (Margaret). I told my mom (Jill) I was considering using Jillian as my daughter’s middle name, and she didn’t seem especially excited, either. So, who knows? But when I do have children, I’m stealing your idea of addressing them formally!

      P.S. I haven’t thanked you yet for the gorgeous artwork you created for Luna – thank you, thank you – and I can’t wait to hear another poem from you!

      • Yes,family tradition can be a burden. Both me and my cousin are named after our grandparents and we both disslike our names so much we introduce ourselves to people using aliases.
        Ut was my pleasure to do the artwork and I am really glad you liked it 🙂

  5. Hey, there’s a reason I go by H.K. — I’ve often thought of changing my name, which is a combination of an old family name and then my father’s name (why do people do that to their kids???)
    I was thinking of Quinn instead of Ken… but then, with my last name, it’d be too tempting to just go by Q&A.

    • LOL @ Q&A!

      But seriously… the initials do offer an air of mystery, no? And, while I like Quinn as a name, it’s been a bit smeared for me by the smarmy Detective Quinn character on the show Dexter.

  6. I had the misfortune of being teased for having a ‘boys name’ my whole life and for it to be mistaken for ‘Gail’ which is one of the most awful names I can imagine. Combine that with the cartoon series about chipmunks and an all male strip group called Chippendale and I pretty much hated my parents. But I actually love my name now. I just hope I don’t either marry a Dale or someone with the last name Dale/Daley or something that rhymes.
    I tend to use my names up on animals because I think you can call them the stupid names that it would be unfair to inflict upon a child. For example – my pet rats are Edgar and Maximilian Alistair. And I have a cat called Bixby.

    • I feel like “boy” names for girls are really trendy right now – perhaps your folks were just ahead of the curve! I am friends with female versions of Charlie, Taylor, Cameron, Jordan, and Peyton.

      Honestly, the Chippendale thing make me laugh. I was right there with you, since Jennie Orcutt morphed into “Penny Whorecutt.” But I love my name now, as well. I think most self-love evolves once you escape middle school, anyway! And may I just say, your pet names are fan-freaking-tastic. They sound like very classy rats and cats.

  7. Ha! This was great! I have the Jennie name as well, in my grade alone there were 10 versions of Jennifer. My sister called me Jazz, most other people just called me “J” or by my last name. No one but my Mother called me Jennifer lol My middle name is Anne, I never thought of what I would change that to!

    But because of having that overly popular name I was oh so careful naming my children! My son I named Jamie. I did decent there, no one else was named Jamie Ha! But in kindergarten one of the kids told him he had a girls name, I asked my son which kid said this and he tells me, “It was Richard! Richard Head!” to which I laughed hysterically and had to leave the room. My middle daughter, I tried so hard, but I screwed up with that one. I named her Katelyn. She had 7 versions of Katelyn in her class haha! The youngest is Sylvia. Two out of three ain’t bad 😉

    • Why hello there, fellow Jennie! I have to say, I’ve yet to meet one of our kind who wasn’t fantastic, even though we are prolific.

      You know that icebreaker game where you’re supposed to put an adjective in front of your name that starts with the same letter? “Jazzy” would have been good, but I always flubbed and said “Juicy” or “Jiggly” – both of which are AWFUL.

      I can’t believe that poor child’s parents didn’t think that through. That made me laugh so hard. My mother swears she knew a guy in high school named William Dye, and he was the undertaker’s son.

  8. Oh I like the name Gwen, but I promise not to steal it. My husband and I are definitely not on the same page with names; I loved the name Natalie and he said no with such ferocity that I was a little scared. But we won’t be having little Baldings for a couple more years so we have time.

    • Natalie is lovely! I totally feel you on the ferocious husband issue; J hates most of my boy name ideas. Granted, they are pretty crunchy/nerdy: Rowan, Tristan, Archer. He veers toward traditional names: Mark, Andrew, etc. We’ve also got a few more years to meet in the middle. 🙂

      • Yep. I’m sure we will find something. I think he wants to name our kids after fantasy characters, but I can never be sure with that jokester. 😉 We will all figure it out.

  9. I loved this post for so many reasons! Because I am a Khaleesi in my heart. Because my maiden name is Bailey and the boys in the 5th grade used to sing to me, “Won’t you go home, Beth Bailey?” Because I had to pick out names for my children when I was so young I didn’t have the maturity to name a pet goldfish, yet they seemed to have turned out fine. And because one day in the future I expect some grandchildren, and I will not get to pick out their names. So I amuse myself thinking of names they never be called. Like Vladimir and Beatrice. At least i think not.

    • Hello, Khaleesi-of-the-heart! I really liked thinking about your experience of having to just jump in, name- and child-wise. There’s something to be said for a name that just flows well, and isn’t necessarily rife with meaning. I was named after a TV actress on a cop show, for heaven’s sake, and I love being a Jennie

      P.S. I think Lil’ Vlad would rock in kindergarten.

  10. I like the last name Orcutt, but I know kids can be evil when it comes to making fun of things. I don’t have kids so at least I can rest easy knowing that I won’t be saddling any kids with unfortunate names. I’ve named my cats Pickles, Cupcake, Jellybean and Slinky, so who knows what I may have done with a poor unsuspecting child. I like the name Khaleesi but mainly in an ironic way. Not for real. And one of the worst names I’ve ever seen was—so help me—Tylinaul.

    You can still modify your name—you can be Jennie Mistress-of-the-Universe Saia, or whatever! Personally I think Jennie Kowabunga Saia has a nice ring to it.

    • I like the last name Orcutt as well – it’s solid. And it comes from the much less-pronounceable Urquhart, which is very fun to lay on people! But it’s easy to pick on, and at age 12, I wasn’t quite prepared to regale the bullies with tales of my noble Scottish ancestors.

      You, however, clearly have a gift for names! You cat names make me swoon. My dogs are named Joel, Adelita Navidad, and Tato, so there’s really no telling what’s in store for my spawn, either.

      And where, oh where did you come across “Tylinaul?”

      Jennie Kowabunga Saia

  11. Like you, I missed a huge opportunity when I got married. To be fair, I thought I had up until my wedding day to choose my name – imagine my surprise when, two months before the big day, I went to the courthouse to get the paperwork in order, and was forced to make a decision right there on the spot! I was unprepared. I was debating between hyphenating and not hyphenating my last name – and in the end, I opted for the hyphen, a decision I really regret. Alas, chalk it up to learning, I suppose… :\

    • They definitely spring it on you! The entire experience of filling out the paperwork was a bit surreal for me – the offices where we did ours were the opposite of romantic, with some of the most jaded clerks I’ve ever met. Ah, well – it’s not the documentation or the name that really makes a marriage, is it?

  12. Great article! I jumped at the chance to take my husband’s name because my maiden name meant something like “big, wet burp” in German. Found that out when I went there! So I was more than happy to be rid of it. But every now and then I think about changing my name to Julia from Julie. I think it sounds more exciting.

    • That’s amazing. I am *so* curious how some of these last names ever evolved within their origin languages! Orcutt means “one who lives on a hill” and Saia means “skirt,” so not too scandalous. 🙂

      Julie is on our list of girl names for if we have more than the two I’m hoping for… I really love the nickname Jules. What are your feeling on it?

  13. We have a hoard of brilliant names in our family… Starting with Hoar sets the scene and I embraced it, pretty quickly realising that it makes a brilliant conversation starter… We then have an Archibald Dick (say it quickly…), a few Pratts and a Granny Smith. I guess I had a lucky escape that my Granny didn’t go for a double barreled surname as that would leave me as a Wild-Hoar… Fab post!

    • Kudos to you for embracing it! I kind of wish I were part of your family – I feel like they’re just waiting for a book to be written about their zany adventures.

  14. I really like this post,it reminds of a post I did of people who named their kids hashtag and like. I am not married yet but I already have name set down for my children boy and girl. 🙂

    • Hashtag. *shaking my head* I feel like, if you’re gonna go weird, at least go weird in some kind of poetic way, a la Blue Ivy or Apple. Maybe I’m just not enough of a tech-lover…

  15. Blue ivy,north,apple are equally weird. I still can’t believe that kim k named her daughter North. Honestly,I like uncommon and unusual names, what I don’t like are names that are so ridiculous that you think its a joke and start laughing when the person tells you their names.

    Anyway here’s the link to the post


    Your post inspired me to make it a sticky note.

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