The Name Game

I was originally going to publish this about a week ago on Election Day. It wasn’t easy to find a way to tie that into a (long dormant) blog primarily about kids. I was going to call it “Selection Day” but the play on words was so weak that I couldn’t bear it. With the mandatory waiting period now passed, I am back.

The first choice any parent has with their child (after, of course, the choice to have that child) is what to name it once it is born. For some, thought on this choice begins well before conception. I’ve been told that there are people who know what they want name their kids when they are still kids themselves.

For me, indeed, I decided what I wanted to name my first daughter well before I was married. It was well before, in fact, I had even started dating my wife. I would like to say it was before we met but that, technically speaking, isn’t true. We first met during our sophomore year in college and may have even had a class or two together, but didn’t really get to know each other until years after graduation.

It was shortly after said graduation that I decided on that name though. For reasons I still cannot really put my finger on, I wanted my first born to be a daughter. With that in mind, if believed that the father-daughter relationship is the one of the four possibilities that was the least….(searching for the word)….respected? Not sure if that is quite right, but father-son and mother-daughter are heavily covered and often romanticized. Mother-son would be included in all the lore of the mother-child stories told and retold from the Virgin Mary right through to Sophie’s Choice and Mamma Mia! (I’ll ignore Mommie Dearest, but Psycho is mother-son movie, too, isn’t it?) Anyway, until you get to a daughter’s wedding day, the father doesn’t much figure into the story.

It makes some sense, too, given that the fathers of literature and song are the likes of the absentee patriarch featured in Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle or Shakespeare’s King Lear who was a holy mess all around. Russian Czar Ivan The Terrible killed his own son (after he stood up to dear old dad for Terrible’s beating his son’s wife into a miscarriage.) For all of this he got a famous painting from renowned artist Ilya Repin hanging in Moscow’s Tretykov Gallery. Dick Van Patten got five seasons of Eight Is Enough with a drunken Betty Buckley by his side. Just doesn’t seem fair.

When, in 1994, Jimmy Buffett released the song “Delaney Talks To Statues” it struck a chord for me (ba-da-bum!). There was something about its simple message of a father admiring his daughter for nothing more than her being herself. Don’t get me wrong, as far as pop songs go, it isn’t all that impressive. To be fair, I don’t think anything Jimmy Buffett has done is all that impressive (aside from convincing hordes of middle-aged men to dress like idiots and pay lots of cash to watch him sing the same songs over and over again in concert.) It was simply what the song was about and it touched me.

So it was then that I decided I would one day name my daughter what he named his: Delaney. I let Amy know this pretty early on too. In fact, I had only two hard and fast items on which I would not budge: I won’t do laundry (I hate it and don’t know why. HATE it) and we had to name our daughter Delaney. Bless her heart, she agreed to both.

I only stuck to one. Given that most of my readers know full well that our daughter is not named Delaney, you can guess how many loads of laundry I’ve done over the past 11 years. Not counting the many I did in the Laundromat when our washer broke, I think it probably averages out to less than one a year.

I’m not entirely sure when I dropped it, but at some point, I let it go. It’s not as though Amy put up any sort of fight, I just grew out of liking the name. Just as well – I wouldn’t exactly have been excited to tie myself to Jimmy Buffett for eternity that way.

As for where Maggie, as well as Henry, Ollie, and Theo came from? These are the stories we’re here today to tell.

Before I delve into specifics, it is worthy to note I have a few guidelines I try to follow when it comes to names. You may feel free to adopt any that work for you as well. Some are very specific to me, others less so.

  1. The name must be multi-syllabic and cannot be shortened to a single syllable.  When your last name is just one syllable long, you need a little more heft up front.
  2. We looked for names that were classic while still not being all that common. When I was in school, every other girl was a Christine, Nicole, or Jennifer. I believe the wave of Brittany’s should be hitting middle school just about now. On the flip side, there aren’t a lot of Pilot Inspektor’s out there and that’s probably a good thing – for everyone else not named that.
  3. We would come up with a name for both a girl and a boy. Whichever set might get discarded would not be recycled for the next kid. I somehow felt it was like a hand-me-down name.
  4. Middle names, I believe, are wasted if you’re not honoring someone somewhere. They’re only ever used on applications and the most formal of occasions. Who cares if they sound “nice”? And, frankly, if you haven’t done your part to at least try to give your child a middle name to be embarrassed of, then you haven’t tried hard enough.

Certainly not everyone would agree to these guidelines. My own mother gave her first two kids the names James and Carl Theodore. They were Jim and Ted before they were ten years old. Also, she would have named any of us “Leslie” had we come out a girl. That was her mother’s name. She never got that daughter but, if you were to base it solely on the amount of product one uses in their hair, my brother Morgan comes closest and already has a girl’s name.

So let’s get to the namin’!

MARGARET CATHERINE (Theodore James was the boy choice): Ah, little Delaney, we named you Maggie instead. Looking back, I honestly have no recollection of how this happened. I don’t remember whose idea it was and I don’t remember what other names we may have considered for girls. She was going to be Maggie as far back as I can remember.

In theory, it is a family name. While I didn’t scour my family tree, Amy had some Margaret’s (and even a Marguerite) back in hers. Frankly, anyone whose family has been here for more than a generation or two probably has a Margaret in there somewhere. I think we liked that because people (some people, anyway) look down on so-called “baby name book” names. I’m not really sure why, exactly. I guess there’s an idea that if you don’t come up with the name organically then it is somehow less. God forbid you should pick a name you like just because, you know, you like it. Of course, when we leave naming to idle mind of the creative, you end up with Moxie Crimefighter.

So we liked and agreed on Maggie. That was easy. The middle name took longer.

Catherine is Amy’s mother’s name. I had no problem with it, other than the possible fact that Margaret Catherine sounds exactly what you would name a girl if you knew she’d one day become a nun. Sister Margaret Catherine is lacking only a Mary in the nunnery trifecta of names. But, one of Amy’s siblings had planned on using the Catherine middle name only to have Catherine herself express some reservations about it. They moved in a different direction.

I had a back up waiting too: Marion. She was my paternal grandmother. Given that the name peaked in popularity in the 1920’s, I would certainly be doing my part to embarrass my daughter with a name she wouldn’t want to share with anyone. While no one ever called my grandmother May, I decided that it was a perfectly acceptable shortening of it. Accordingly, Margaret Marion would become Maggie May and that was tremendously appealing to me. I do like my pop song names.

Our plan was simple: we would float the idea to Amy’s mother and, depending on the reaction, would go one-way or the other. Maggie was just a day old when we did it and she reacted positively. The name was set in stone (or at least set in copier paper) and Margaret Catherine it was.

One day later, Catherine wondered why we didn’t choose one of my grandmothers for Maggie’s middle name. So close. So close.

HENRY JAMES (or Lucy Anne): Maggie was a little over a year old and Henry just a theory when, one summer day while driving through Norfolk, Virginia, Amy just up and blurted out something like “What do you think of Henry for a boy’s name?”

I laughed at her. I really thought she was joking. Henry Hook? No one was named Henry anymore and it was a tad alliterative for my liking. Also, and this was a big one, Hank is short for Henry and as bad as I thought Henry Hook was, Hank Hook was just that much worse.

On the other hand, it did fit into that idea of classic but not common. We discovered a handy little website that tracked the popularity of names. Henry peaked in the 1880’s (or before…the 1880’s was as far back as the info goes.) The chart pretty much looked like a ski mountain with modern day being akin to the parking lot below the ski lodge.

It took months, but I came around sometime after she was actually pregnant. Once I did, we hung James next to it not only because that is my father’s name but also because I loved the literary sound of Henry James. He’s best known for writing The Bostonians and I liked the symmetry of that. Only later did I learn that Henry James also pretty much hated America and became a Briton later in life. Win some; lose some.

And then Julia Roberts ruined it for everybody. She gave birth to a boy in the summer of 2007 when our Henry had been in this world for a whole seven months. His obscure name became decidedly less so when Roberts copied us by naming her own son Henry. People love to do whatever celebrities do and now Henry is shooting up the charts in popularity. Damn that Pretty Woman (with the big fish mouth.) Damn her!

OLIVER ALBERT (Abigail Clara) and THEODORE DANA (we never got that far): The twins! Suddenly the job was doubled. Oliver, like Henry, was Amy’s idea and it had been hanging out there for a while. Similarly, Abigail had been a runner-up to both Maggie and Lucy.

Point of fact, Amy and I never had problems coming up with names for girls. We liked, in no particular order, Stephanie, Allison, Courtney, and a bunch of others in addition to those that had already gotten picked. We could have had a dozen girls and had no problem coming up with names for them. When it came to boys, though, it was always a struggle.

I don’t like any of them, up to and including my own. I always dreaded that part of class in elementary school where I had to say my own name. I always wanted to be Christopher. Amy was all about naming one of our boys Marshall Philip Hook, Jr. so we could call him MJ. Wasn’t going to happen.

One of my cousins has a son named Oliver and we have a niece Olivia. It wasn’t as rare of a name as we would have liked, but it was still classic enough. Oliver it was. (Side note: it was only within the past year that we suddenly, and without discussion, switched from calling him Oliver to Ollie. Don’t know why…it just happened.)

Having given our first two kids the middle names of two of our parents, and knowing we’d have four overall, Oliver was awarded his grandfather’s name. Oliver Albert it was.

This left us with poor Theo. I guess in the end, even the idea of twins was so exhausting we just gave up. We went back and grabbed Maggie’s back-up boy name and just gave it to her littlest brother instead.

Amy and I both have brothers named Theodore. Both go by Ted. We liked the idea of using that name for a boy, but making it different at the same time. Plus, by already shortening his name to Theo, no one is likely to call him Ted. Ted, of course, is a single syllable. Please refer to rule number one.

The final piece to fall into place was the middle name. Having used both our fathers and one of our mothers, it really only left us with one choice. Thankfully, my mother has been graced with one of those names that can be used for men and women. There aren’t a lot of Dana’s out there of any stripe, but I would suggest that Dana Carvey is probably the most famous Dana at this point (all due respect to Queen “Dana Owens” Latifah and Dana Plato, may she rest in peace.) After some hemming, hawing, and consideration of other alternatives, Dana it was.

In the end, for all the people who got kids named after them, only my mother seemed truly touched by it, so that worked out nicely.

With that (and a small surgical procedure) our days of naming kids are over. Looking back on it, I think we did okay. I’ve heard many a person say something in the spirit of “great names!” I’m also well aware that people say that to every new parent, even the ones who named their son Jermajesty. That one appears to be one celebrity name that hasn’t caught on for whatever reason.

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