When my husband and I alighted upon the name Seymour for our second child, a boy, we were thrilled. Both writers, we liked its literary overtones (J.D. Salinger’s Seymour Glass character! Muckraking journalist Seymour Hersh! Distinguished restaurant critic Seymour Britchky!); its musty whiff of both the royal courts of England and the shuffleboard courts of Florida (I am half-British, half-Jewish); and its customary diminutive: Sy. (I’m a firm believer that any name should have an exit strategy.)
Fearful that our ingenious pick would become more popular than Jayden, we waited until our son’s birth for the announcement. To my surprise, “Seymour” was greeted not with coos over our cleverness, but furrowed brows, curled lips and snorts of derision. And that was just the grandmas. Misspellings abounded. References to Little Shop of Horrors - “horror” is not generally a word you want associated with your progeny - were bandied about. How could I have forgotten that Salinger’s Seymour Glass committed suicide? Someone told me that there was a porn star named Seymore Butts.
My post-partum blues dissipated, but not the nagging sense that we’d made the wrong choice. Finally, one weekend driving back to New York City from apple-picking with six-month-old Sy and his uncontroversially named older sister, Josephine, I snapped. “If we’re going to change it, we need to do it NOW!” I shrieked. “Before he knows what his name is. What about Isaac? Then we could call him ‘Si.'”
My husband shook his head. “How can you cave to social pressure like this?” he said.
Our conundrum, I found, is not uncommon, as post-post-modern parents agonize over finding a name that is dignified yet playful; distinct without being weird. Jessica, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother who lives in Bensonhurst, still rues naming her son the top-100 moniker Lucas rather than her original, more unusual choice: Lucius, which her best friend swiftly kiboshed with a dismissive “ew…sounds like the devil.” “Now every time we hear Lucius, we frown and say ‘I wish we named him that,'” Jessica says. I hear through the grapevine that a musician acquaintance is changing his daughter’s name from June to Juniper, though he refuses to talk about it – perhaps because he’s so busy with the extensive paperwork involved. My friend Mimi, a 36-year-old doctor who lives in Manhattan, regrets giving her toddler Solomon the middle name “Elias” to honor her grandfather Edward, rather than well, Edward. “Why did we have to be so hip?” she said. “I’d rather he had the sense of being directly connected to someone in the family.”
Whatever their cause, baby name regrets should be resolved briskly, before the individual’s bureaucratic paper trail (passport, school registration, driver’s license) begins in earnest; and decisively, lest confusion reign in the immature psyche, let alone one’s social circle.
As for Seymour, my mother-in-law’s eagerness to help me switch to Isaac perversely made me fall in love with the potential of his name - and him - all over again.
“He can be Sy when he plays baseball,” she said.
“Maybe he’ll play piano,” I replied.