Naming names

So, as you know, Dear Reader, I am with child. Among the many responsibilities that come with bringing a child into this world is the task of choosing for her a moniker. I thought this job would be easier and much more fun than it is proving to be. I also thought that the world had now gotten the memo that it is inappropriate, if not downright gauche, to comment negatively on potential selections parents-to-be are sharing with you for their little sweet potato. Or, at least, to do so to their face. I suppose, though, that if people feel free to voice their opinions on how much weight a pregnant woman should gain, how much effort she should put into breastfeeding, how much caffeine she should (or should not) consume, how that glass of champagne at New Year’s is going to scar the child for life, I should have known that people would feel free to voice their thoughts on names. I mean, I thought that choosing a name is a pretty personal choice. At the same time, I thought, you know, it’s just a name, and a name is a name is a name and whatnot. Once again, I was oh-so-wrong. People have opinions. And they have opinions they like to share with you.

The inquisition into a name started early and occurs often. In fact, I would say it is one of the first questions people ask me upon learning there is a bun in the oven. It doesn’t bother me, of course, because it’s a natural question to ask and feels, I’m sure, far less intrusive and fun than asking about uncomfortable bodily functions or disfunctions. I’ve asked the question of other gestating women a million times and I have no plans to delete the query from my arsenal. Beyond the initial and universal inquiry, though, there appear to be many different approaches to the follow-up. Let me back up here for a minute.

I have had several friends and friends of friends who have cut the name conversation off at the knee. They will say, politely of course, something like, “We aren’t comfortable discussing names with you.” Usually it’s even more tactful than that, but that’s the gist of it. Well, actually, the gist of it is, “We don’t care to hear your thoughts so we will not be engaging in this conversation.” Rationally, I completely understand this approach. What’s the point of hearing other folks’ opinions on your choices when, inevitably, someone will say something negative — usually in an intentionally benign manner — and it’ll cause you to fret and worry and question those choices all over again? In practice, though, I cannot get myself to say anything that may even resemble a sentiment like, “I’m not telling you!”

So instead of the mum’s-the-word approach, I have experimented with a different variety of response. It’s something I like to call Midwestern Nonchalance. The response varies, depending on to whom I’m speaking, but the response is all a variation on the theme of Midwestern Nonchalance. The key components of this theme are simple: (1) feigning a laid-back approach while simultaneously furrowing one’s brow and saying something like, “Picking a name is hard!;” (2) turning the question back on the inquirer with questions like, “What did you name your kids?” andย  “Oh! That’s so cute; how did you decide on that?;” and (3) throwing a bone out there by tossing a few potential names into the conversation and letting the reactions fall where they may. This last component is, admittedly, the most dangerous. In my opinion, it is to be reserved only for the very pushy, slightly inappropriate (usually) coworker. For example, just this morning, AO and I encountered an ordinarily very polite, kind and funny coworker in the office kitchen who congratulated us on our baby-to-be. She quickly moved to the topic of names, glossing over the news baby is a girl sweet potato. After I pulled out all the stops on components one and two, she hit me with, “Well, just tell me some of the names on your list.” Oh boy. She was good. So, I tossed out three. The first two were met, seemingly, with approval while the third was met with silence. Penelope seems to do that to some people. Even when we tell them we’d call her ‘Penny.’ Actually, now that I think about it, the ‘Penny’ part doesn’t seem to change any of the facial expressions I’ve seen after I dared to utter the name ‘Penelope.’ Anyway, I thought, “That’ll teach her to ask us for our list!.” Though I quickly realized it probably wouldn’t. As I then hurried back to my desk, I pictured the office gossip engine circulating with the news that we were going to name our child — God forbid! — Penelope. Oy.

I try a more robust version of Midwestern Nonchalance with my family and close friends, as well. I’ve had varying degrees of success. When I told my dad we liked the name Mabel, which happens to be his mother’s name, he told me he thought it was a “truly ugly name.” No sugarcoating that one, I guess. We have told several family members that we like the name — and I hope, Dear Reader, that you’re sitting down for this one — Gertrude. We like Gertie & Trudy as nicknames and think Gertrude is retro-cute. Like, really cute. Our affection for Gertrude, though, apparently does not rub off on others as we have heard varied, but consistent responses all ending with a resounding, “You cannot name her Gertrude.”* Well, actually, as it turns out, we can.

I tell myself (and AO) that maybe it’s good to know these reactions in advance. I know people argue that not revealing your choices will mean that your friends and family *have* to like the name you have chosen once the sweet potato has arrived and her name is in ink on the birth certificate but, of course, that’s not true. People will continue to have their opinions, whether they voice them to you or not. And I’m not really convinced that people who think it’s ok to tell you a name is forbidden and ugly before you have officially opted for it will be people that are tactful enough to keep their opinions to themselves when the little tyke is on the other side of the womb. In any event, while family and friends’ dislike of names I like is not dispositive for me when it comes to our choice, it’s a factor that I (pretend) I appreciate knowing.

It’s interesting to me that people have such negative reactions, but seem to have so few positive ones. I know, I know – you’re thinking, “Well, you’ve given them Penelope and Gertrude. What’s to be positive about?” I feel, though, that I’ve thrown out quite a few names and that among them, someone would have been bound to really like something — Emma, Molly, Hannah, Annie, Sadie, Charlotte, Abigail, Beatrice, Adelaide, Matilda. What I have learned, albeit very slowly, is that while there have been several names that have made people visibly shudder, there has not been one name that I have uttered that has made anyone squeal with glee. Well, that’s not entirely true. My bestie, the GAOOG, has repeatedly cooed at any of the names I have thrown her way. Yes, even Penelope & Gertrude. And my other bestie, the doctor, has been the epitome of laissez-faire awesomeness. While she hasn’t cooed, she has remained her usual, even-keeled, it’s-all-good, whatever-you-like self. Thank goodness for besties.

All of that said, though, I should say that I’m really not overly worried about it. I think the name is an awfully big deal, but I have confidence that we will pick something that is just right for us and, more importantly, just right for Lady Sweet Potato. I hope that she likes the name we pick for her and, if she doesn’t, I hope she forgives us for our choice and knows we picked it after much thought, with oodles of love and with tons of advice from the peanut gallery. In the end, though, it’s really just a name. Right?

*One coworker was asking me about our name ideas and, when I turned the conversation back to the names of his four kids (see component number two in Midwestern Nonchalance), he told me that he and his wife usually agree on things, but when it came time to name their kids, they did not see eye-to-eye. He said, “She liked late 19th century names like Agnes. Agnes! Can you believe it? I said, ‘Honey, Agnes? We might as well name her Gertrude!'” And, scene.


24 Responses to “Naming names”

  1. 1 Kristin November 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm


    I loooove Penelope and Gertrude. My sister is obsessed with this name list that gauges the popularity of names (I know there are many lists, but to her this is, like, the only one to use). You win (according to Tara) if you pick a name far enough down the list so as it’s not THAT popular, but far enough up the list that it’s not that obscure. I would say, without having to consult Tara’s list, that you hit the jackpot with those two. Love.

  2. 2 kateandgracie November 29, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Aw, thanks sweets! You’re the best. And I’m with Tara — we’d like a name that’s traditional-ish, but not everywhere right now. I want the name to have staying power without being ubiquitous. And, I know I’ve said this before, but I am in love with Maeve. I know you are also in love with Maeve the person, who I think looks amazingly loveable but of course have never met, but just the name: well, it’s perfect. For the Dear Readers who may not know, Maeve is Kristin’s gorgeous niece.

  3. 3 Raoser November 29, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Ok, I don’t understand how anyone could not love Penelope! It’s SO cute, as Penny, or in full form. Gertrude is totally retro-adorbs and don’t get me started on the perfection that are Trudy and Gertie.

    Now, I must say I think for this exact reason I’d have to attempt to shy away from the name conversation. I’d likely use the “we’re not telling because in Indian culture it’s a bad omen” excuse. *Please note, I do not know if that’s a real excuse.

    I can’t help but equate it to acting, or maybe movies, tv shows, hollywood, in general- sorry to be lame. I just seems everyone thinks they know good writing, acting, directing, etc. (including me) but in the end it’s all just an opinion. No one knows anything. I’m sure people questioned the name Meryl but once she became Meryl Streep, who cares? She’s a STAR!

    Don’t get me started on Sarayu Rao but it’s what Mama Rao went with (in the moment by the way as they had nothing at the time) and I wouldn’t trade it for a second. Well, maybe I’d switch it to Meryl Streep, but that’s it.

    Oh, and if I were a boy, they’d have gone with Buchinarsingharao- so really, I just thank my lucky stars everyday.

    In closing, I love every name you’ve come up with so far and whatever you don’t use is going on my list, so thanks for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And most importantly, whatever you pick, the Sweet Potato McGhee is going love it and wear it proudly and be very excited you put this much thought into it.

    p.s. I think Mabel is awesome and not at all “truly ugly.”

  4. 4 Sara H November 30, 2011 at 9:02 am

    You’re going to pick the perfect name for Ms. Sweet Potato (as long as it’s not Apple). ๐Ÿ˜‰ I think all of your choices sound lovely and would match a cute baby perfectly! As for telling people….. I just told people we weren’t telling people. Period. And if I was talking to anyone other than my mom or Russ’ mom, I would just say that since we hadn’t told our moms, we really couldn’t tell anyone (the message being: really? you want to beat my mom to the punch regarding her first grandchild’s name? you’re not that mean, are you?). Worked pretty well.

    I am fascinated that you and AO wound up with such a long list that you agreed on! Rusty and I had trouble – we ultimately both picked Brenna as #1, but further down on the list the choices diverged. And it’s a good thing we didn’t have a boy, because there was zero consensus there. Yay for you guys! Although I guess that creates a different dilemma.

    I sort of can’t believe people are openly passing judgment on names. And are they seriously offering you advice about breastfeeding and caffeine? I felt all of that more as a general societal pressure, more than direct comments from peeps. Ugh!

  5. 5 kateandgracie November 30, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Well, to be fair, I haven’t really received the breastfeeding/caffeine/etc advice, but I feel like with all the pressure out there, I may as well have. Or, really, it’s more like comments people make in general, not necessarily to me or even about me. For example, this yoga instructor I had was talking to another pregnant woman about the woman’s imminent c-section (the woman had broken her pelvis at some point — prepregnancy — and wasn’t going to be able to have a vaginal (hate that word) birth so she was coming to terms with her c-section (she really ought to have gotten there already, in my opinion, as she was about 35 weeks along when this conversation took place)). Sorry for all the parentheticals, but I already feel another one coming. Anyway, the yoga instructor (who had also had a c-section) was consoling her, saying things like, “It’ll be fine. It’ll be great, actually. I mean, don’t get me wrong, when I found out I had to have a c-section I cried for a week straight.” Yes, that’s what she said. Anyway, then she said something like, “You’ll like it — you can just get up in the morning, shower” — as if that is a plus — “call your family, get a coffee on the way to the hospital…I mean, decaf of course.”

    Decaf? On the way to the c-section? How on earth is that caffeine going to get to that baby in time to have any possible problem? Plus, at that point, your little one is grown and ready to come out and I don’t see any possible problem with caffeine even if it were to get to the baby…except maybe baby would be even more awake during labor.

    Anyway, so really, it’s more just comments like that that make me think that people feel the need to comment — maybe not directly judge — on every single thing about pregnancy that it’s silly for me to think that people wouldn’t comment about names. Oh well.

    And yeah, I guess it is good we agree on names. Though I feel like AO is more easy-going and amenable to almost anything I throw out. There have been times when he’s said no way, but very few. I could use some help from him narrowing things down a bit.

  6. 6 Sara H November 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I’m going to admit it on the internet – I drank caffeinated soda. Every day. The SHAME!

    I like how you noted that it seemed rather odd to cry for a week over a c-section. I think in addition to pressure to behave a certain way (no caffeine), there’s also pressure to feel a certain way – that v-birth is beautiful and wondrous and just the best, or that breastfeeding is beautiful and pleasurable and you should want to do it forever. And maybe it is that way for some people, which is great, but I think there’s a perception that you’re emotionally defective if it’s not that way for you (or at least that’s my perception of the perception).

  7. 7 kateandgracie November 30, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Oh, I totally agree. I was looking into a baby book the other day (one that I knew a friend was reading) and as soon as I read that the doctor placed heavy emphasis on the “birth experience” and the importance of not traumatizing your baby during the “birth experience,” I quickly moved on to another book that was way less creepy to me. It’s so strange to me because people seem obsessed with everyone’s pregnancy, birthing and breastfeeding, but once the kid gets to be, say, 5 or so, no one really seems to care about their health/well-being/brain functioning/etc anymore. I just don’t understand this hyper-emphasis on what’s going on in utero, and for the year or so post-utero. I mean, I get that they’re important and all, but really, people: it’s not new. And I also don’t get how anyone can swear off caffeine while preggers. I’ve never been so tired in my life!

  8. 8 aaron November 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Preferences (in order): Penelope, Gertrude, Jermichael.

  9. 9 kateandgracie November 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Brilliant. But I notice an absence of my all-time fave, Tramon.

  10. 10 Kristin December 1, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Jermichael is perfect. A variation on Jermajesty,. perhaps? But a more direct homage to MJ. Love it.

    Very popular right now, among teen moms mostly from what I can see, is Nevaeh, being heaven spelled backwards. I’m sure you’ve heard about it, but I can’t talk about it enough.

    Also, there is a boy or girl (no idea which) in Maeve’s preschool class named…wait for it…Paisley. Your welcome.

  11. 11 kateandgracie December 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Oh, thank you very much! Yes, Paisley is quite…adorable!

    Jermichael is really a nod to Jermichael Finley of the Packers, but goodness! It very well should be a shout out to the King of Pop. Though given that whole child molestation business, it’d be pretty weird to name an actual child after him. Obviously he did, of course, but that’s a little different. Speaking of his kids, I find myself weirdly drawn to the name Paris. It has such a nice sound to it. Not that I’m actually going there (or to Paris itself, unfortunately), but I can see why people do. Paris.

    And yeah, I had never heard about the Nevaeh phenomenon until I was looking through baby books and top names on the social security website (great source, by the way) but wowsers…I have never encountered anyone with the name, and I’m not even sure how to pronounce it, but from the sound of things, it’s everywhere. Apparently it was discussed in Freakonomics or some other book that I have not read but everyone else seems to have. Who started that bandwagon?

  12. 12 Kristin December 1, 2011 at 10:20 am

    God, I don’t know who started Nevaeh but I’d like to have a talk with them for sure.

    If we’re doing sports names, and if you were having a boy, I would vote for Anfernee.

  13. 13 Sara H December 1, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Just FYI, Penelope is one of the top 100 baby names of 2011…. right above Kate.

  14. 14 Sara H December 1, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    But below Nevaeh.

  15. 15 kateandgracie December 1, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    Yeah, and Tina Fey just stole Penelope right out from under me, too!

    Anfernee! So phonetically easy!

  16. 16 Jane Roe December 2, 2011 at 11:53 am

    This has been a fun read. Not having a baby the “normal” way, I did not have to go through all the intrusive questions, comments, and unasked for suggestions that the usual pregnant woman must apparently deal with. Thank God! However when we were told on Monday that we’d have a baby on Wednesday and the one requirement was that we must have a name chosen, figuring out a name became job number one. So with drinks in hand, we sat down to figure out a name. And what happened is that we kept eliminating names because one or the other of us had a bad association with the name. We finally hit upon Timothy as a name with no bad associations and one we rather liked.

    I think all the names you have chosen will be perfect simply because it will be the one YOU chose. But I must admit that I am relieved to see that the spellings you are using are normal. No Pennelopee, or Gertryde, or May Bell. I can’t figure out if the names I see in the paper are because the people are far more clever than I am or if it merely indicates they don’t know how to spell:(

  17. 17 kateandgracie December 2, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Hahahahahahaha! Oh my gosh, I absolutely LOATHE the bizarro spellings, but I’m never sure what I dislike most about it. Sometimes I think it’s the obnoxious attitude the parents (and later the kid) get when the name is spelled *wrong* (ie, right). If you’re going to enter weirdo spelling world the one thing you need to be prepared for is for people to spell the name right, er wrong. Whatever. The other thing that bugs me about it is it feels pretentious. It feels like the ordinary spelling is far too pedestrian for your taste so you had to make it all oddball, which maybe would be ok but it feels like the weird namer is then looking down their nose at all the normal namers. Then again, maybe it really does just mean they don’t know how to spell.

    And Timothy is a perfect name. And frankly, I can’t imagine Tim with any other name. I think that’s the best sign of name: it’s just fits them.

  18. 18 Heather Certain December 5, 2011 at 11:16 am

    I have been missing out! This is hilarious, and speaks to my heart. As you know, we took the “we have a name but aren’t telling” route, which was effective. And true, which helps. I do like having the name conversation, but it is hard when there is a real baby you’re talking about.

    I love all of those options. Penny/Penelope is uber cute, and remember Trudy? She was/is awesome, just like the name. Annie was my number 2 for Lucy, and Emma is the original perfect name. I have complete confidence that you will pick a great name.

    And here is my internet confession: I was not emotionally invested in my birth experience. I mean, I didn’t want a C-section, mostly because it’s harder for the mom to recover. But, I was perfectly happy to lie there with the pitocin and the epidural running in while watching the softball world series on espn. I would not, however, share this with a prenatal yoga class. Now, I am not the most emotional person anyway, but I was very attached to being pregnant, and love being a mom, but how the baby travels through the birth canal was just not that important to me, as long as we were both safe. And, luckily everything went fine.

    Then again, I wasn’t even emotionally attached to Lucy’s first haircut, so maybe I am not the best barometer.

  19. 19 Rose December 5, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Hi! So glad to be back. What a great topic of conversation. I quickly learned that if I didn’t want opinions I had better just say “we’re working on a list”. Ingrid was not a fan favorite. After that I stopped telling anyone anything. Penelope was on my list though! We were going to use Poppy as the nickname. I love Penelope and Penny. Gertrude is totally cute too (you are just ahead of the cool baby name curve). Whatever name you choose will be perfect for your baby.
    I just want to put it out there that I was/am def into the whole birth experience and love breastfeeding and all that, however I still drank my one cup of coffee per day (still do) and never got all crazy about lots of things (don’t do this, do this…..). Unsolicited advice is really just the worst (has not stopped yet….the first thing everyone asks is “does she sleep through the night” as if an answer of no means I’m either a bad mom or I have a bad child). I always just say she does pretty well no matter what the truth happens to be at that given time.
    I can’t wait to hear the final decision!

  20. 20 kateandgracie December 7, 2011 at 10:27 am

    You guys are the best. And Heather, I am with you — I am just not attached to the birthing process. I completely get that people are, and that good friends of mine, like Rose, are, and I don’t mean to express any disrespect for that at all. But if I pretended like I had a vision or a dream or something for how that all goes down, I’d be lying. Well, I guess I have a bit of a vision. I would like to avoid a c-section, too, because I don’t want to have to worry about all of that recovery time, but if a c-section is necessary (I know that brings up a whole different ball of wax) then I don’t think it’ll make me too sad for too long. And of course I want baby and me as safe as is possible and then some, but beyond that, I just really want her here. Though I don’t want her here just yet because I have a lot more to do before a new person enters our house on a permanent basis. Yikes! What a thought! Oh! Also, I’d like something else on tv other than the softball world series — that actually is a big part of my vision.

    Back to names: I love Ingrid!! I have a friend named Ingrid who is really great, so that probably helps, too, but I think it’s a great name. I can see, though, that people would react like they have reacted to some of our names — they just kind of get that sour look on their faces and I think, “Ah, yes. Thank you for sharing that with me.” Buggers.

    I’m also happy to hear, Rose, that you love breastfeeding! I know many great moms who have had such problems and have sweated and plowed their ways through it, but would not say it was enjoyable. I was reading about it the last couple of nights in this new book I bought and what I really took away was, “If it’s difficult, ask for help as soon as possible.” I know that it can still be very difficult for many after asking for help, but I fully intend to seek assistance if it’s not going swimmingly for me after a week or so. And while I think the bond that must form between you and your child when breastfeeding must be one of the strongest things out there, I am also not opposed to pumping and feeding if that works better for us.

  21. 21 prudentcupcake December 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I enjoyed this post very much, we think alike! I love your name ideas and the fact that you choose to call yourself “with child”. That is my favorite way of saying it. And :O Mabel is a beautiful name! It is on my girls’ list. Congrats on the baby girl!

  22. 22 kateandgracie December 8, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Thanks! Yeah, I still think Mabel is uber-awesome!

  23. 23 Mary Lloyd December 9, 2011 at 9:53 am

    Grandma here……In spite of my reaction to Gertrude I will love any name you pick for her. although there is that association thing that goes on. But I am confident I can overcome anything when I get to see the little pumpkin.

  24. 24 kateandgracie December 9, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Thanks, Grandma!

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November 2011

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