I was not the little girl who planned out all of the details of her wedding before she turned 12.
I planned everything else, though. One of my favorite pastimes was to go through catalogs and magazines, clipping things (furniture, jewelry, muscle cars, horses) that I wanted to have in my adult life, and pasting them into spiral notebooks. I’d devote pages, not only to nurseries and baby toys, but to carefully curated photographs of infant models that looked like they could, hypothetically, be the product of my loins. The only thing I conspicuously left out was a man.
From a very early age, I was obsessed with names. My sister was born when I was five and a half, and I clearly remember gradually taking possession of my parents’ dogeared blue baby name book until it took up full-time residency in my room. Man, I love that book. I think I still have the original copy, now probably held together by no more than sheer willpower, but I also have at least a few copies of the updated version that I’ve picked up at library sales. One of them is in my classroom library, where I used it with my creative writing class and, more recently, with my freshmen when they wanted to know whether their own names would smell as sweet after they found out what they meant. The 2004 edition has 30,001 names to the 1984 edition’s 13,001, but I personally prefer the original; most of those 17,000 new names are “American inventions” — names like Shaquanda and Deshawn that don’t have meanings (my favorite part) and aren’t really applicable to me.
Anyway, as a child obsessed with names, I naturally christened my baby dolls (and the hypothetical children in my notebooks) with great care. My girl babies were Olivia, Julie, and Jill (there may have been an Opal in there at some point as well) and my boy babies were James, Alexander, Piers, and Philip. I am not ashamed to admit that that last name was a favorite simply because it meant, according to my blue book, “lover of horses.”
Looking back through those notebooks, it’s clear that taste changes as you grow up. I had invented a lifestyle straight out of the opulent late 1980s/early 1990s, replete in ornate furniture, gaudy animal-themed jewelry, and impossible housepets (think “safari”). Everything was dark wood, tapestry, gold, jewel-toned, big, ruffled, brassy. I must have been picking the most expensive, over-the-top items I could find out of that J.C. Penny’s Christmas catalog. This was not the future lifestyle of a high school teacher, but then again, I had no intention of being a teacher at that point in my life. I was going to be President, perhaps, or a best-selling author, or a world-famous paleontologist/stormchaser. Or Queen; perhaps the reason no man ever made an appearance in my notebooks was that I was saving myself for Prince William, who would eventually marry an entirely different Katherine Elizabeth. The bastard. (I do know that a significant part of my early aesthetic was influenced by the 1981 royal wedding; Grammy had a commemorative picture book that played a big role in my young imagination.)
My taste in names has evolved as well. Julie, Opal, and Philip no longer hold any appeal to me as baby names, and the connotations I once associated with Olivia and Jill have been overwritten by real-life acquaintances. I still like James (and Jim) but have come to the conclusion that I’d really prefer not to use any family names. Piers — a name I liked because I liked the author Piers Anthony — has picked up too much pretention and foreign-ness, a la Piers Morgan, for my taste. And while Alexander is a perpetual favorite, the “er” ending goes poorly with our last name, and I’ve just known too many Alexes at this point to really want to use it for a child.
Today, my “possible baby name” list shows that I tend to prefer traditional names, often with a literary connection. I veer more traditional for boys than I do for girls. There are many more girl names that I like than there are boy names, and I’ve discovered that while I have some strong prejudices in the masculine moniker department (I don’t like one-syllable names with hard consonant endings, and I don’t like names that sound too “cute” for a grown man) there’s no real pattern to what I like or don’t like for girls. For girls in particular, I like names that have a dignified long form and a cute short form (preferably ending in an -y sound); I’m a big fan of shortening and playing with names, so it’s important to me that a name be not only truncate-able but that the short form is pleasant to me as well. (This has caused problems with a former favorite, Sydney, because I really don’t like Syd/Sid.) With boys, that’s still important but not quite as much so — and no, I can’t tell you why. While none of my favorite names are really what you’d call exotic (unless you count Anjuli, which I’ve always loved but wouldn’t seriously use, at least not as a first name), the girl names are more so; I think a (vaguely chauvinistic?) part of me feels like men need nice, solid, conservative names while women’s can be more adventuresome.
Now, when I think about names, it’s less important to me whether they mean “lover of horses” and more important that it’s a name that will serve them well throughout their lives. I think about what that name will say about my adult child, how it will look on a business card, but I also think about what it will sound like shouted in mocking tones in the seventh grade hallway. I love traditional Irish names with their enigmatic spelling, but think twice about how many times a child would have to explain the spelling and pronunciation of Siobhán or Diarmuid.
Most of all, though, because parenthood is nothing if not a collision of selflessness and vanity, it has to be a name I like. 🙂
So what about you? Have your favorite names changed since you were younger? What do or did you consider when naming progeny? Were you as geeky/obsessed as I am (and if so, is The Baby Name Wizard your favorite website, too)? What do you like or dislike in a name?
(BTW — if you’ve had problems posting comments on this site, try not typing in an email address. I’m troubleshooting the problem and think that might be a band-aid.)