The Name Game

When we first announced that Katie was pregnant the immediate follow-up question was, “do you know what you’re having?” When we didn’t, they asked if we were finding out. Then we did. And we told people.

For some reason I thought once we had the answer to this question, they would stop. Instead, they just progressed to “do you have a name?” If we say we don’t, we’re often pursued with requests for the options. This makes perfect sense coming from family and close friends, but these questions come just as heartily from strangers who happen to be standing behind us in the grocery store line. Apparently, if your life has a physical indication like a belly popping out, it’s in the public domain.

Katie hasn’t had many belly rubbing incidents, so maybe she thinks this line of questioning is an apt substitute, but I wonder why we’re left in this position, back-peddling away from disclosing our options. I don’t remember people often having names for unborn babies, let alone announcing them. But I think my perception is skewed from the amount of people who didn’t even find out the gender. I thought we had already gone one step further, but it seems to be a complete-disclosure-or-nothing situation and we are precariously, and unsuccessfully walking the line.

What I refuse to forget is that closely following unsolicited questioning is unsolicited input. Part of the hesitation is we don’t want to hear all of the negatives about a name that we’re really attached to, even if they are realistic.

We have a lot of names, a lot of options, and even some front-runners, but there has always been something about me that’s superstitious about definitively deciding before the baby is born. I don’t like to name things that I can’t see. Also, what if he doesn’t look like the name we’ve chosen and that’s the name that’s embroidered and stenciled around the entire nursery? Sure, you can change all of that, but people don’t usually like you to change something after they’ve gotten attached. This “we’ll know his name when we see him” philosophy is ignoring the fact that I don’t actually think newborns look like a person. In fact, I think most look like aliens and even though I’m prepared to fawn over my alien baby, I have no delusions about the rough ride this kid is going to take down the birth canal. Probably an obvious name won’t present itself at all, but I still like to hold onto my options.

Besides the complicated implications of naming him early, there’s a lot to dreaming up names that’s fun. As a playwright I can take weeks to name a character. Compound that with being able to name an actual living human being and pick a middle name? Well, it’s like a kid in a candy store on Christmas eve with the Easter bunny in attendance. It’s all sorts of mashed up somewhat secular religious holiday happiness. Letting go of all of that by making a choice feels like opening a Christmas present early (to extend the confusing holiday metaphor).

Except this baby will be a real person and will probably want a name that’s less “creative” and more “pronouncable” and “not weird”. We considered traditional versus modern, popular versus unique. We looked to family names, but most of them have already been replicated many times or just aren’t our style. Sorry, Grandpa Melvin, you will be remembered in many fond ways, but I don’t know if the baby would forgive us for that one.

Katie and I have different decision-making strategies. She’s the type of person who regrets every food order she’s ever made at a restaurant, and I think “what’s done is done, I’ll be happy with whatever comes out.” I take a long time to deliberate. Once we find the name we like, and I’ve weighed every possible cruel nickname and weird initial pairing, I won’t look back and wonder if it’s the right decision. I’ll just know. And then I’ll have to continue convincing Katie – that’s after I help her move past her regrettable cheeseburger order a couple weeks ago.

We’ve had some names that almost made it to the top, only to be struck down by initially missed references, potential nicknames or odd associations. You’d be surprised how many people you realize you’re adverse to when you try to name a kid. But we remain optimistic about the few options that are holding strong. We only need one to hang on long enough to stick. And then, when we realize the obvious problems with the name that others easily could have pointed out to us, that will have to serve as his first lesson in adversity.

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