My Baby, By Any Other Name…

May 13, 2008

We’ve known Sprout’s name for a long time. Naming him, in fact, was one of the easier parts of child-preparation for us. It came to us, and it felt right, and that was that. So he has a name, and we – and Wonderbaby – have been referring to him by name for a long time. Which I love, because he’s already part of the family, someone we know, someone whose name is included with all of our own when we talk about the future, or when we whisper good wishes to everyone we love at bedtime. I love that Wonderbaby discusses him freely with anyone who asks – I have a baby brudder his name is xxxxxx I love him I gonna share my toys we gonna have CAKE and and and I love him and I kiss him LIKE THIS (blows kiss at mommy’s belly) – as though he were already here, which he is, of course, in the most important way, in our hearts.

And I’ve gotten accustomed to the occasional eyebrow being raised when Wonderbaby utters his name. It’s not a strange name – artists and writers and characters of fiction have had this name – but it is a little on the eccentric side, maybe. It’s not a name that you hear every day. So, yes, there have been moments when an utterance of his name provokes those arched brows and a politely restrained oh isn’t that an unusual name. Which doesn’t bother me. It’s his name, and I just know that it’s perfect for him, even having not yet met him. I just know. It just is.

Still, I avoided telling my mother, because I knew she’d hate it. I knew, because she hated all the boys names that I mentioned to her when Wonderbaby was just a Wonderfetus, gender unknown. “Theodore? Theo? Oh, NO, honey, I don’t like that name AT ALL. Not AT ALL.” I knew that I would have to preface any announcement of his name with the caveat that she would not like it and that I wouldn’t care and that she’d just have to deal, etc, etc, but still. I knew that it would be an uncomfortable conversation. I knew that there would be an awkward silence over the telephone. I knew that she would sigh deeply and maybe issue a protracted hmmmm before saying something to the effect of I don’t know, Cath and I suppose that I’ll have to get used to it. Which is exactly what she did, yesterday, when I told her.

I’m not crazy about it.

I knew that you wouldn’t be.

I just worry… will kids make fun of him? What will you call him for short?

MOM. It’s not unusual enough for him to be made fun of just because of that. There are far more unusual boys’ names out there. And I don’t know what we’ll call him for short. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that this is his name.

Well… (DEEP SIGH) I suppose that I’ll have to get used to it.

Yes. Yes, you will.

What about Theodore? Didn’t you want that name before? I’ve always liked that name…

I love my mother, I really do, and have always valued and admired her naked honesty – she is very nearly constitutionally incapable of withholding her opinion – and I had told myself that I just wouldn’t care if she didn’t like his name, I had told myself that I knew she wouldn’t like it, that I was prepared for her to not like it. But still… there was a moment there, the briefest moment between his name falling from my lips and her reaction to that name, during which I held my breath and willed her to like it. Wished for her to like it, to recognize it as the perfect name, as his name. And so I was deflated when she reacted as I had expected. Disappointed.

Because, as I keep saying, it is his name, his perfect name, and I feel lucky to have found it, just as I felt lucky to have found Wonderbaby’s perfect name. So, the larger part of me says that it does not matter what anyone else thinks: I am his mother, and, along with his father, I hold responsibility for his naming, for finding the name that is uniquely his. Only we can recognize that name. It is ours to give to him, his to take from us, his to wear, his to own. Even if he grows up to hate it – which is always a possibility – it will remain his name, his original name, the one that I will whisper in his ear the very moment that he is first placed in my arms and that I will shout from the rooftops at every opportunity thereafter.

But, but… my instructions to my mother – get used to it, you will just have to get used to it – remind me that to some extent a name really is just a name, just a word, something that we get used to, something that grows on us, something that becomes our own because of what we make of it, not because it fell from the sky of ideas like a shooting star into our mother’s lap and presented itself as sacred, sacrosanct, perfect. Our boy will be our boy, regardless of his name, regardless of whether we call him Jack or John or Junior or Pilot Inspektor. He will, if our experience with Wonderbaby is anything to go by, have many names, be called many things, be referred to by many terms of endearment. He will be, no doubt, our Prince, our Pirate, our Monster, our Parakeet, our Crunch. And no matter what he is called, he will always be him.

The him that he is, though – the him that he will be – that ‘him’ has a name, a name that I, we, have given him, a name that we love him by, and will always love him by. His name, his very own name. It is indeed special, and it will be the first word that he hears.

What anybody else thinks of it? Doesn’t matter. It’s between we and him.

(A question that vexes me, though: DO I TELL THE INTERNETS? I’ve long wanted to stop calling Wonderbaby ‘Wonderbaby’ and call her by her real name. And I’d so love to share Sprout’s real name. But I’ve become so accustomed to using pseudonyms, even as I’ve become less convinced of their protective effect. This, however, is another topic for another day, and something to distract me while I continue suffering through this interminable, unpredictable labor.)

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    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Well, of course I know Wonderbaby is Emilia because of the Tanner story and because I watched a video where you were interviewed. You really have me curious about Sprout’s name.

    45 years ago it was me, picking an odd name. If my firstborn were a girl, she would be Shannon. I know it’s common now, but in 1962 it was not, and our entire family was appalled. In fact, my grandmother decided her name was Ruth and refused to admit to anything else. Told everyone the wrong name. Odd that today Ruth is the odd name and Shannon is so common.

    Seriously, I know you worry about stalkers and weirdos. But they can find you anyway. The internet has photos of your house and Google is so handy. In the end it’s really up to you and Her Bad Father to decide if you want the world to know Sprout’s real name.

    I’d love to know!!!

    Laura May 13, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Family on both sides were perplexed when we named our one and only, Max, a name I dreamed about before we even started trying to get pregnant.

    I knew it would be perfect for him and it is and everyone else has gotten used to it!

    SP May 13, 2008 at 10:55 am

    My MIL was a 1st grade teacher so every name we came up with she had taught a bratty booger eating child with the same name. We finally decided not to tell her the name until we handed her the baby. It was just easier that way.

    With all this build up, I really hope you share the name. Curiousity is killing me.

    And today I wish you luck… luck and labor :)

    twelvekindsofcrazy May 13, 2008 at 10:56 am

    After I had my ultra-sound and learned we were having a little boy, I called my parents to tell them the news along with my son’s name. My dad acted like a complete jerk and told me hated the name and it was horrible and awful and what was I thinking?
    I will never understand this insensitivity. It’s pretty hurtful, especially from a parent. Don’t people get it? When you choose a name for a baby you choose it with the greatest hope and love for this little person. It’s not for anyone to rain their petty opinions on it.

    apathy lounge May 13, 2008 at 11:08 am

    At one time Bob Geldof named his infant daughter Fifi Trixibelle and thought it perfectly wonderful. Maybe he still does. I hate it, but it’s his kid. His choice. And his conscience when an adolescent Fifi becomes enraged after a classmate says that her name reminds him/her of a nervous French poodle. Or…a prostitute.
    I harbor no such fear that you would give your child a name that would require years of therapy once he was an adult. I know you give your son his name out of love. The world is full of tired old family names that have about as much flavor as a stale piece of gum. And the Greatest Generation gave us more than our fair share of Bettys and Bills. Your mom got her chance to pick a name she likes and now it’s your turn. You don’t owe her grandchildren at all…let alone children with a name she likes. This is your choice. We’re behind you.

    Tuesday Girl May 13, 2008 at 11:17 am

    we had the same problem with our firsts (twins).
    This time around we didn’t tell anyone the names we were even considering.
    People seem to have opinions before the baby is born but after they usually just keep their mouth shut, which was fine by me!

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Please oh please tell us their names!! I’m dying to know… I love to hear children’s names. It makes them so much more than a cute face… it means something.

    Mom101 May 13, 2008 at 11:19 am

    You’re naming him Bob, aren’t you.

    I just knew it.

    PS We didn’t announce our names until the baby was there wearing it. It’s easy to reject a name. It’s hard to reject a child. Whatever it is (It’s Bob, right?) he will be so very loved by all.

    Schweeney May 13, 2008 at 11:20 am

    We waited until after the delivery of each child to come up with names, procrastinate much? We decided upon my daughter’s name (because if you leave the hospital without a name it becomes a real hassle so better sooner than later) and called my parent’s with the news. My mother’s comment was “Really? That sounds like the name of the an upstairs chambermaid.” I said goodbye quickly and we didn’t speak again until I received a written apology.
    Until the day she died she always referred to her by both here first and middle name, not just her first. Makes me smile every time I think about it.

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I named my daughter after my deceased mother, so I got no arguments. But I KNEW going in that I wouldn’t get any arguments b/c of the situation!

    I’m dying to know his name, too. Had no idea what Wonderbaby’s was until I read the first comment posted.

    Her Bad Mother May 13, 2008 at 11:25 am

    Mom-101, dude, HOW DID YOU KNOW?

    Mayberry May 13, 2008 at 11:37 am

    After the fact, we learned that our son’s name was one that my grandfather had wanted for my uncle, but my grandmother had categorically refused. I find this oddly charming; even though I adored my grandmother, she was an opinionated old bird.

    Bon May 13, 2008 at 11:37 am

    i think you borrowed my mother for that conversation, clearly.

    but yep, that’s a familiar refrain…and in fact, it sounds almost like you picked a familiar name – if Muppets count as characters in fiction ;) – and the truth is, my mom has gotten so used to Oscar she’s forgotten now that she had such a reluctant response to it when it first came up and is quite shameless about comparing all current options to its merits. sigh.

    spill the names. you want to. :)

    Don Mills Diva May 13, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Tell us, tell us!

    I never worry about using my son’s name – if someone wanted to stalk us they could figure it out in about 2 minutes anyway…

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Ok on naming children they will love it at times and then hate it at times. I’ve never been a huge fan of my middle name and now artistically I use it as my first, go figure! Quite a few people didn’t like my second baby’s name Griffin but he is a Grif, G, G money, G dog to me so and that is all that matters. My husbands grandparents never remember his name to remind me of their disapproval (screw em’)I birth it, I name it!!! I don’t use my kids names on line, just their initials I have some issues with nicknames and the expectations kids can feel come with them, stemming from my own childhood nickname. I know plenty of people who use their kids names, so just go with your gut.

    Des May 13, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I must say I am in the category where I speak in real names… I’ve realized that if you are going to have a crazy stalker, he is going to find you regardless of if you say your child’s real name or not… but obviously it’s a preference. I love unusual names! My daughter’s name is Lyric and I am pregnant with my 2nd and don’t know the sex yet… but the possible names are just as unusual! Names are so much fun!

    growingapair May 13, 2008 at 11:53 am

    With Noise, we picked his name before he was even born, and we told everyone we were going to name him Benjamin, after his great-grandfather. Then my SIL kept calling him BENJI and calling him her little puppy. Damn, I was mad.

    At the same time, we were reading Roots. We loved the idea that the child was the first person to hear their name spoken out loud. So we decided that we would not tell anyone the name we had chosen (having moved away from Benji after months of barking from my SIL.) Noise would hear it first.

    We did this with both kids, and it has been both a beautiful tradition and a way to avoid commentary. People just don’t feel as free to criticize a name when it’s already attached to a person they can see.

    Val May 13, 2008 at 11:58 am

    I wouldn’t worry about what other’s think, including family. If your husband and yourself LOVE the name, then that’s it. Done. Finite.

    My MIL hated my daughter’s name and continued to ask how to spell it often after she was born. I finally wrote it down and told her to put it in her wallet for future reference.
    But you know what…she got over it…our daughter fits her name….and I still love it.

    apathy lounge May 13, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Also? I was an English teacher the year I was pregnant with Greyson. I had seven students named Jennifer and three named Ryan. We wanted something different. Some of the names we used: Tucker, Atticus, Wilder. Hope no one needs therapy.

    Janet May 13, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    When we told my mom our first born would be Drew, if he was a boy, her reaction was, “You mean Andrew.” I reassured her that, no, it would just be Drew. She paused and asked, “Got anything else?”

    After that, we kept our name choices rather vague until after the baby was born.

    Bea May 13, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    I think of my children as Bub and Pie half the time, so I don’t mind the nicknames when I blog about them. The only time it bothers me is when I’m telling an anecdote in which the children use each other’s names in conversation, and I have to sub in the nickname. I always feel that much of the charm and cuteness is lost in the translation.

    Nicknames are no guarantee of anonymity, but I still prefer them; I think they do provide some measure of anti-googlability.

    That said, I’m dying of curiosity about your boy-name now! Can you tell us in a clever code? (How about those literary characters you mentioned?)

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Everyone I told my daughter’s name to? Got really quiet. I kind of understand, we named her an uncommon Hebrew name, and it’s very different. Nobody said anything- except for my dad- who pointed out that her initials would be ALA. As in “Alabama”. And he would call her “bama”, like a f*cking DOG. And this is where I got pissed, and said I didn’t like that much, and thankfully he hasn’t called her that yet- she is only 16 months old.

    Mouse May 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I’m extremely curious now too.

    With Scooter’s given name, we got a lot of the raised eyebrows and the like before he was born, but once he was present, people had a harder time being so obvious with their horrified surprise. Those who recognize the historical reference get bonus points.

    Number Two (if/when) will also get an unusual name, likely something historical again, but with a common-ish nickname. One reason for this is that after teaching for a bit, I find I can’t use a name I can place with a past student. My top boy’s choice was recently ruined because the nickname it suggested is the name of the most obnoxious boy on Scooter’s soccer team. I’ve now heard that name yelled shrilly so many times that I never want to hear it again.

    Meryl May 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I love that idea growingapair! When I was researching for our wedding I came across the idea of a naming ceremony for a baby a few weeks after birth. I really liked the idea of not annoucing the baby’s name until that moment–although I always thought it would be hard to keep it a secret until the ceremony!

    But waiting to tell the baby his or her name first is such a good idea, and certainly would avoid a lot of the yucky commentary.

    Heather May 13, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    If that first commenter is correct, I have to say I love your daughter’s name and I bet your son’s will be just as lovely.

    I’m one of the bloggers who doesn’t use the kids’ names, but I imagine I will reveal this baby’s name in a photo or something. Maybe I’ll take the photo down after a couple of days or something though.

    I’m fairly certain my family will think the name is weird too. Oh well. We don’t tell what it is until after they’re born either. I think the kids just seem to become their name. My son was named after my maternal grandfather. When I told my mom his name she thought it seemed weird (although she was touched too) at first, but now, that’s just who he is!

    MommyTime May 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I had the. perfect. name. for my daughter before she was born, and then the circumstances of the birth and the Japanese middle name we thus wanted to use for her (husband is Japanese) made the perfect first name un-useable, so we had to choose a new first name. For a few days after she was born, I even called her by the name I’d carried around with me for so long. But now I can’t imagine her with any other name than the one she’s been given. Children grow into their names, no matter what others say about them. Choose what’s in your heart, and don’t worry about what anyone else says. (If my husband had liked my perfect choice as much as I had, we might have changed the middle name instead.)

    Kim/2 Kids May 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Mom 101 made me snort! I do think Bob is the perfect name. My high school biology teacher named her son Flash Gordon so I think as long as you don’t go the route of Moon Unit, Crystal Meth or Napalm it’ll all be swell.

    Phoenix May 13, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    I’m a big fan of not telling certain people until a baby is born, for this exact reason. Everyone has opinions on everything. Heck my step-mother will be horrible when she hears my children’s names. Even after my kids are born.

    As long as you guys love it, it’s the perfect name.

    Her Bad Mother May 13, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Bea – I’m pretty sure that I’ll reveal it at some point, but here’s a lit clue – a surname in Edwin Drood. It’s also the name of an author who writes a series about literary detectives.

    Piece of Work May 13, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    My sister named her kids last names. I.e., my niece’s first name is my sister’s maiden name, and my nephew’s name is my grandmother’s maiden name. I happen to personally HATE the practice of using last names as first names (way too many asssociations with elitist assholes from prep schools) and so their names have bugged me from the start. But you know what, they are 10 and 12 now, and I can’t really imagine them as anyone else. I don’t really think a name is as important as everyone else does. It’s just a name, why should that matter? What matters is the person. Your mother is going to love that boy no matter what his name is, and just wait, she’ll grow to love the name pretty damn fast. It will be impossible not to, she’ll love the boy so much.
    As for telling the internets, PLEASE! I’d love to know!

    I don’t think there’s any harm in it, either–but I’m biased and naive, as I’ve used my kids’ names all along.

    Amy May 13, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Of course I want to know. I love the name game.

    But it is all up to you – the revealing or not. Personally, I think you should save it for the birth announcement which we are all on pins and needles waiting for.

    I agree with Phoenix too.

    carrie May 13, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Don’t worry about what other people think. It’s YOUR baby!

    You will get used to people asking about it, like they do with your daughter’s name, but who cares?

    I get that stuff all the time – that’s a last name! What an unusual name! Is that a family name? Why did you decide to name him that? It doesn’t matter.

    Our first son’s name is McRae and 2 people I know who have had boys since then have “borrowed” the name so it can’t be that bad.

    Hope your labor is being more predictable – I’ll send positive thoughts to get you through these last days!

    Avalon May 13, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Dick Datchery?? Jasper?? Christian??

    C’mon. I’m dying of curiosity here. If you tell, I promise to reveal the my Princess’ real name is not Princess.

    french panic May 13, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    Do you tell the internet Sprout’s real name? Silly question. After a post like that, you HAVE to.


    (Please do forgive my insistent rudeness – as I have never commented on your blog before – but seriously. Don’t post teasers. Hinting that mom hates it and it’s “unusual” – that’s just plain old blog cruelty. Offender!)

    Her Bad Mother May 13, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    Dudes. I will very probably share his name – and WB’s, which has already been outed, but still. But it won’t be until he’s born. Which, hopefully, will be any minute now. ;)

    RubiaLala May 13, 2008 at 1:09 pm

    I’m sorry that your mom does that. It would be nice if she were just supportive. It is, after all, YOUR child and YOUR name. YOUR choice.

    Anyway, whether or not you tell, it would be nice to know what “strange” name you have cooked up, but you could say it and still call him by a pseudonym after that.

    delurking May 13, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I think I got it from your clue. If I’m right, I love it. I really, really do. Good luck with everything!

    Commander Mommy May 13, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    I confess that I am dying to know this ‘perfect name’ because it is something that we’ve all agonized over at one time or another. I also understand the temptation to share my children’s real names. For one thing, it makes story-telling dialogue a whole lot smoother.


    I keep hesitating. I mean, the internets, for all of its intimacy, supportiveness, and otherwise warm-fuzzy-inducing moments is a scary place. I don’t want my children to be known on the internet beyond the anonymity provided by their pseudonyms.

    That said, I am *this* close to posting pictures of mine which is something I’ve always sworn I would not do.

    nomotherearth May 13, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Hey – I think I know the name! I love mysteries.

    I’m quite ridiculously superstitious, so we didn’t tell anyone the names we had picked out – not even the Boy. (No doubt because he would tell EVERYONE what the name was.) It helped though, that we didn’t know the sex of the baby, so technically we hadn’t decided on a name, we had decided on two names.

    Kate May 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Something that a few blogs I read has done is say the name in announcing the birth or telling the birth story — a little, Welcome, Theo, or whatever — and then use a pseudonym. I can’t wait to hear his name, so I hope you do the same!

    Crystal May 13, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    Ok, nice outing on the very first comment. LOL. We too are in the throws of baby naming, the past two girls have been very easy but this little girl has me stumped. Our short list has a couple of lovely ones but I am just not sold on one yet so that makes me think there could be a better one out there. I have one criteria that stands strong, she has to be able to be introduced as “The President of the United States —– —–,” just in case. So that means no sissy names. And both on my girls have male middle names (James and Lee). Anyway, can wait to hear what you pick.

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    I think it’s Jasper. I can just imagine that little face in the sonogram being named Jasper. And I sort of like it…it’s different, strong, and yet has a whispery softness to it, so you can sing it to a baby.

    I also love Emilia. You could have done Amelia and been more common and modern, but I love the spelling that you chose.

    By the way, in that one picture of her for Mother’s Day where she is looking sideways at the camera – she looks so much like HBF in that, I was astonished.

    You have great kids!

    Sophie May 13, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    We have had every comment from every quarter. And it’s not even as if they have wierd made up names (although I happen to like those too).

    Child #1: How do you say it? How do you spell it? How do you say it in English?

    Child #2: But that’s an old lady’s name!

    Child #3: It’s a Hispanic name! You’re not Hispanic!

    Everybody has an opinion, it seems… and you can’t please everybody so best to ignore them.

    And now … please please tell us? Emilia is such a lovely name, I can’t wait to hear what goes with it!

    Melissa May 13, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    My husband is from Hungary, and his parents are STILL not happy (almost 2 years later!!) that we named our son Oliver London. Our last name is very Hungarian and long and difficult to spell/pronounce, so we wanted his first and middle names to be easy. Apparently Oliver is “not Hungarian enough” and London is simply “not a real name,” according to my in-laws. But we never, not once, reconsidered. That is ‘him,’ and he could be nothing other than Oliver London.

    The real kicker is that my husband’s brother had a son a year ago, and since he had converted to Judaism as an adult, he and his Jewish wife gave their son Jewish first and middle names. Well, my parents-in-law were REALLY upset (this totally stopped their picked on Oliver’s name for a while). They call the baby boy his real name in person, but any other time they actually call him a completely different Hungarian name (what would be his late great-grandfather’s name)! Is that crazy or what???

    Baby naming is an awesome responsibility and no one should compromise their choices based on anyone else’s opinions. I think it’s great you’re sticking with what you feel is right for YOUR baby!

    Anonymous May 13, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I honestly did not think I was “outing” Wonderbaby in my first post. She’s been referred to by name in this blog, I thought it was common knowledge.

    Tobi May 13, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    We tormented our friends and families by withholding our kids’ names for as long as possible – for exactly the reasons articulated above.
    We only revealed our son’s name several hours after he was born and all the paperwork had been processed.
    For our daughter, who was adopted internationally, we revealed her name at the airport when we arrived home with her and were greeted by friends and family.
    It drove my mother crazy both times!

    Best of luck with labor, delivery and whatever naming ceremonies you choose.

    ScientistMother May 13, 2008 at 1:59 pm

    No matter what you name sprout, someone will dislike it. The first words out of my SIL’s mouth when she saw me and the monkey was “You can not name monkey ****”. My parents tried to claim that a part of his name was after my dad…crazy indians. Seriously though , I think when you dialed the westcoast they connected you to my mom. Can’t wait to hear the name, wishing you a delivery today.

    Vicki May 13, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Oh hun, you are driving me nuts!! I am so desperate I have googled every possible author. I’m with the others who guessed Jasper…it does have a very sweet whisper quality to it. Anyways, if that’s not it, I’m sure whatever you pick will be magnificent! BTW, my twins are a Nathaniel and a Sebastian and I got harped on for making their names too long and too old fashioned and not making them rhyme. I still get angry with my MIL for calling them Nat and Seabass…she is just that dumb, what can I say? Anyways, keep your secret until you are darn good and ready…Best wishes for a speedy delivery…

    Tobi May 13, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I don’t think Jasper is it. I think it’s either Septimus Crisparkle or Dick Datchery. (Could’ve been Grewgious, but that’s too hard to say!)


    Ali May 13, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    we didn’t tell ANY family members the names we picked out while pregnant. i KNEW there would be comments and criticisms. but once they were named….my family members had to close their mouths. ;)

    i’m sure the name is perfect!

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