On a recent cross-country flight, I sat next to a woman and we talked about our jobs and opportunities to talk about leadership with educators and students alike. Our conversation later turned to talk about our family dynamics and our children which led to us chatting about how people decide the names of their children. I told her I would consider writing about that this weekend because our conversation made me think about how my husband and I picked the names for our children.
I remembered that both of my children asked me why we picked their names at some point when they were old enough to realize that names were not genetically derived like their brown eyes. I don’t remember if their questions came after a Sunday School class about the meaning of the name Moses or Abraham or if their curiosity was peeked in a classroom discussion about the history of names or after receiving the family tree assignment I dreaded so much. At any rate, I shared “the why” with my daughter first.
When I was pregnant with my daughter and before we were certain of the gender of the child, my husband and I discussed the fact that we would have to pick a name for the child. I know that seems pretty normal and simple, but it turned out to be a thoughtful, more involved process than I expected. There was talk about “what if it’s a girl” and “what if it’s a boy?” We talked about why our parents chose our names and if the baby would be named after a family member. My mother gave me a middle name that was a form of her father’s name because he said I looked like him. He actually wanted his name, Jodie, to be my first name. I wondered whether children even needed a middle name. I also wondered if being named Jodie would have made any difference in my life my associations or my opportunities. There have been studies, formal and informal, that reveal the impact of names and how a name can influence behaviors of people. I wondered if there would have been any expectation that I would look like or behave like my grandfather if Mama had chosen the name Jodie for me.
I bought a couple of those books that listed possible baby names. I must have had a thousand options between the two books. I thumbed through the pages taking note of the familiar and the dated. There were some names that I associated with memorable historical eras like Jackie and Martin or those names that related to the Bible like John, Peter, Mary, and Esther. Then there were the names that made me wonder what it must have been like to look into the bright eyes of a baby with a happy, innocent face and call that child by grown up sounding names like Mortimore or Henrietta. What an important decision because the child would have to live with that name for a long time.
As I read the lists of names, I reflected on how mean children can be when they poke fun at other children because of their names. I hoped that my child wouldn’t be teased or have other children joking about the name I chose. I fretted over selecting a name and choosing a spelling that made sense for a preschool child writing the name at the top of the paper for the first time. How many syllables? How many letters? Would it be a traditional gender specific name like Sarah or Grace or would I leave the reader of the name with a question if I chose Jo or Jessie? Would I choose a name that people would shorten like they did my name? My mother named me Kimberly, but, Kim became the label by which I was known. I don’t know if that became a sign that we knew each other well or if people were just lazy and Mama gave up on correcting them.
Based on all of my thoughts about the naming process, I made a few decisions. I decided that if I had a boy, his first name would be my maiden name unless his daddy had a name in mind. If the baby was a girl, her name would be simple, elegant, and one that she could learn to spell and write easily. My mother had been a grade school teacher for decades and that was sometimes an issue in her classrooms. (Creative spelling and formations of names can create challenges for children sometimes.) I also decided that I would give verbal reminders to anyone who wanted to give her a nickname or shorten her name and I would teach her to do the same.
After going through the mental exercise of the concerns about naming a daughter and the decisions about the factors deemed important, I told my husband that I had narrowed my ideas and developed a plan. To my surprise, he had a few ideas of his own. He began to pronounce the slated guidelines for baby naming of a girl baby as proclaimed by him. I knew that he had given this list as much thought as I had given mine because he vocalized the list without hesitation. I am not sure he even took a breath before he completed the laundry list of non-negotiable considerations that were critical in selecting his daughter’s name. He said the following:
- The name could not begin with “La” or “Ta.”
- The name could not be more than three syllables.
- The name could not be the same as a car.
- The name could not be a flower.
- The name could not be a color.
- The name could not be a precious stone or gem.
- The name could not be a liquor.
- The name could not have a hyphen or an apostrophe.
“Oh my,” I thought as my head swam. The thought bubble also contained this thought: “Who knew he had such strong opinions about naming a baby girl?” As he ran down his list, I commenced to crossing names off of my mental list. There went Brandy and Jade. I was alright with the cars, colors, and flowers because Mercedes, Indigo, and Rose were not on my top twenty list. Now, I think that maybe if he could have foreseen the celebrity kid names today, I would have had a girl named Pink or a Blue.
Due to his list of “could not’s,” the task of naming a baby girl had become a little more challenging, but not impossible. I took out one of those books and implemented a new strategy with a fresh perspective. I covered up the names and read only the meanings of the names. My husband’s list of “could not’s” left me understanding the value he placed on the meaning people would attach to his daughters’ name and how she would be defined by her name. There was merit in that concept because I am sure that at some point in my life I unintentionally formed opinions, set boundaries for people, and opened my mind to possibilities for people often because of their names. Ever heard, “Oh, that’s my name!” or “That’s my mom’s name!” or “I used to know a person with your name.” When that has happened to me, there was some instantaneous connection between me and the other person. Sometimes that connection leads to more conversation, an unsolicited perk related to the service I was seeking, or a gifted smile because the thought of my name gave the other person a welcomed memory. On the other hand, I am less enthused when there a connection made between me and another person based on my name and there is an involuntary raising of an eyebrow and a solemn face with the added question, “Did you say, Kim?” The pregnant pause that followed left me confused, concerned, and asking if I did something wrong. I have also had people make presumptions about my zip code based on my name as if only Thomas folks live on the east side.
I had no idea whether other people spent this much time or developed such a process to select a name, but the last thing I wanted to do was provide a reason for someone to pass judgment on my child in a way that impeded her progress, growth, development, or success. If anything, I wanted her name to speak strength and promote thoughts about intelligence, poise, and promise. I already knew some of the challenges of being born a female child who might dream of leadership in a male dominated field or the likelihood of her being singled out because she was the only little girl with plaits and multiple, colored hair bows in her grade school classroom. The last thing I wanted to do was create another obstacle for my sweet baby.
The decision to study of the names in those books I bought proved fruitful. I found one name that meant “pure” and another that meant “faith.” I compared the names to the list of “could not’s” then I weighed them against my list of concerns and fears. The result left me pleased and excited. My baby would always know that her parents intentionally chose her name. Her name selection was one of the first parental decisions made to aid us in establishing a foundation stable enough to support the amazingly vast potential of our daughter. Hopefully, every time she sees, speaks, or hears her name spoken the clarity, favor, hope, and peace that rest upon one who lives a life of “pure faith” will intentionally be her testimony.