Saturday, December 20

The Name Game

Yesterday was rotten. I got bad news about work from two clients and an e-mail with bad news from a bank we owe lots of money (they want more). Since I really don't want to dwell on either of these issues, I'm writing about something else entirely: Names and how to choose them.

I had a philosophy of naming for quite some time before I ever conceived a child. Because my given name is simply Amy, rather than Amelia like the great-grandmother after whom I was named, I always wanted a long, classic name that had more nickname options. I decided my kids would have nice long names. Three of them, in fact.

My three-name system included one name each based on
  • family tradition
  • the Bible
  • our own desires
None of the names should be after living relatives, with the possible exception of a "Junior" named for his dad. I didn't particularly want a Junior in the family, but I was willing to give my then-unknown husband rights to one son named for himself, if it was really important to him.

I determined that none of the names would be invented. Before I was married, my middle name was a hyphenated compound of my father's name and my grandmother's name. It was unusual and always looked funny to me--to this day, I can't remember if the second half of the name is supposed to be capitalized or not. In any case, I didn't want my poor child to be saddled with an invented name such as mine, which I'm sure sounded hip and groovin' in 1975, but by the early eighties, I was an odd duck in my grade-school classroom full of _____ Janes, _____ Maries, and _____ Elizabeths.

Any names up for consideration were required to have a strong positive meaning, not spell strange words with initials, and not sound like anything obscene or hurtful. Official naming could not take place until after birth, as I wanted to meet my child before bestowing a name upon him or her. Once Adam and I got married, I added another caveat: No names that start with "A"! I really didn't want to be that family.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, we'd chosen a name to call the baby in utero. We hadn't specifically declared that we would incorporate that name into her given name, but I didn't want to rule out the possibility either.

Really, when I think about it, it's a wonder we managed to find any names at all!

At my behest, we took the scientific approach. Adam and I each went through the name-your-baby book individually. We collected all the names we really liked and noted their origin and meaning. Because no names from the country of Adam's birth were included in our book, we added a few of those to his list as well. Once we'd completed the collection phase, we traded lists. Each of us had the opportunity to veto names that we wouldn't consider because of personal connotations. Then the real fun began.

I put all the names into a priority comparison tool and printed out two copies, one for Adam and another for me. We spent a day or two (or twelve) comparing each name to identify our personal top 10. By the time I went into labor, we had narrowed our list of girls' names to just 18 (from which we needed to choose three). We still had 60-some boys names because I never did finish the prioritizing exercise with those; Adam had given up and just circled ten he liked. I actually brought the folder to the hospital with us so I would have it for reference, in case we had a boy.

In the end, we did give our daughter three names. One of them is a family name, one is appropriate to the nickname we used in utero. One is just for fun. Her initials don't spell anything scary. The worst problem we've had is that her first name is quite unfamiliar to Americans and almost no one pronounces it correctly.

Since I'm not telling you my daughter's name, let me share the three most popular names in the US for the year she was born (2005): Emily, Emma, Madison.

The most popular names for 1975? Jennifer, Amy, Heather. In fact, Amy has been in the top 200 most popular names in the US since 1951.

1973 (the year Adam was born)? Michael, Christopher, Jason.

Want to know the top names from your birth year? Check out the Social Security Website. They have lists of the 1,000 most popular baby names each year since 1880, when the top names were John, William, James (for boys) and Mary, Anna, Emma (for girls).

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