For most, picking out a name is the first of many joyful undertakings associated with having a baby. But being a person accused of over thinking, I viewed selecting a name as my first opportunity to damage my child. Maybe Shakespeare didn’t think that there was anything to a name, but a boy named Sue would probably pummel him for saying so.
I would like to think that names do not impact who we are and what we become. As a child psychologist, I’ve had my fair share of clients whose names continue to haunt me. I think about the Barr family. Are Candy and her brothers Hershey and Snickers destined to be overweight diabetics? Will Fantasy become an exotic dancer and Guinness and Tequila wind up in AA? My mind goes to the troubled boy named God. How can he live up to that name without developing a complex? Needless to say, upon hearing that I was pregnant, the joy I first felt soon gave way to terror. I became my own therapist, calmly reassuring myself that I could do this. I could name my child without scarring him or her for life. In all probability, I would not damage my child until the ripe old age of three. My husband and I would conquer the formidable task of naming our child by being logical and systematic in our attempts.
My first decision was to avoid discussing name possibilities with my husband or anyone else until the fourth month. Not only would I be through the risky first trimester, but by then I would know the sex of my baby. I thought it sensible of me to wait to generate gender-specific names, figuring that would cut arguing down by half. So, with great restraint, I did not discuss names with my spouse. The only other people we told that I was pregnant were my sisters. I didn’t feel discussing potential names with them was a violation of my rules. After all, we had been discussing names for our future children since we began playing with dolls. When the urge to discuss a name became too great, I would lock myself in the bathroom, run the shower, and smuggle in a phone call to my sister. “Hey Sis, what do you think about Britain or Alexandria if it is a girl?”
“What happened to Susie, Barbie, and Holly Hobby?”
My two sisters and I came up with so many names throughout the years and nearly all of them were for our daughters. Girl’s names were just so fun and so imaginative. Our list of boy’s names was considerably shorter.
I was fifteen weeks along when we received the news that our son was healthy and developing well. My husband and I were very relieved and decided that the secret we had kept for nearly four months could be shared.
When my coworkers discovered I was having a boy, they immediately started submitting their suggestions for the “perfect” name for our son. The suggestions became so numerous that a list was started on my office door. Soon my office door was covered with paper and a list of names which topped 100. Basically, every boy’s name was listed. One night, my husband and I sat on the sofa with the master list and took turns striking out names until we were left with our top thirty. Schooled in the scientific method, we thought about how to logically whittle the list down. Our first decision was to consider initials. Our child’s last name would be Driscoll so any name beginning with a V would be out. For the same reason, we would not want his initials to spell out A.D.D. or O.D.D. or B.A.D.
Next, we decided to eliminate names which may result in excessive teasing. Because Cooper rhymes with “pooper,” it got eliminated from the list. My husband was worried Grey might develop depression. Gone. An aspiring atheist, my husband had Adam, Joshua, and Christian stricken from the list. We knew that Junior’s environment would be rich in intellectual pursuits, food, and culture, but somewhat lacking in the world of sports. Therefore, we wanted to stay away from any androgynous names. Goodbye Jamie. More importantly, any names that might emphasize a geeky quality would have to go. That meant Clayton, Arlo and Darwin were headed for extinction. We liked the idea of a name that might reflect our heritage. Keith wanted an Irish name that would pair with his surname of “Driscoll,” so he favored Sean, Riley, and Ian. My mother is from Italy, and I liked the idea of a name that was more ethnic. Keith countered by saying people who divide their “To Do” lists into subcategories (guilty) could not have children with zesty names of Latin origin. He needed to say “ciao” to Giovanni and Dante. For the same reason, he explained we would have to bid Diego adios. Research has found that children with diminutive nicknames such as Susie and Jimmy are less likely to get promoted. So since Harrison would inevitably be called Harry, we had to let him go.
After all that, we were left with a list of 17 contenders. We wanted to hear how the other names sounded in the outside world, so when we placed our order at Panera or Starbucks, we would test out names. “Reece, your order is ready.” “Venti cappuccino for Cole.” Keith and I would lobby for the names we liked by calling to our make-believe child. “Nolan, honey, come to Mommy.” “Sean, you won another spelling bee?” We also used names we didn’t like so much in less positive sentences. “Jackson, stop playing in the toilet bowl!” “Grant, Daddy is going to love the embellishments you’ve added to his favorite shirt!”
After a while, it turned ugly. “Collin, tell your mother about the boy named Sloan in your class who gets his ass kicked.” I would retort, “Drew, please tell your father that there is no way in hell we are naming our son Obi-wan.” The role-playing exercises deteriorated, becoming less name-driven and more about venting latent hostilities. “Elliot, if your daddy really cared for mommy he would understand what she is going through and how much she needs that chocolate!” Still, we stood steadfast in our resolve, and each week we would vote someone off the list. Like any good reality show, we would have to say goodbye to someone with whom we had become quite attached. In my mind, I had already titled Riley’s scrapbook: “The Life of Riley.” By now, little Riley and his scrapbook were gone. Some names were at risk of being eliminated, but some family member would call in to vote, and endangered contestants would be given a reprieve for that week. Owen and Reece got to hold on several weeks because my sister got each one of her kids to call in separately.
My husband and I have very different tastes in names, and when he strongly suggested we get rid of Alexander, for a brief moment I fantasized about being a single parent. But mostly, my husband was sensitive and tried to wait me out on names with which I had grown attached. And in the end, I was the one to part with Cole while he sympathetically passed me Kleenex.
We had just hit the 26-week mark when I was unexpectedly rushed to the Emergency Room. I stopped thinking about names and much else. At that moment, I agreed with Shakespeare: The name didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the survival of our son.
The neonatologist tried to distract us from the doctors attempting to save our baby. “What is your son’s name?” My husband and I exchanged glances. This was not what we had planned. We had 3 ½ more months to prepare, and 9 names remained. Our hesitation was noticeable, and she tried to rescue us. “It’s OK. He doesn’t have to have a name now.” In my mind, the only thing worse than giving your child a poorly selected name was giving him no name at all. There was no more voting, no more intellectual analysis. I heard myself say “Ian.” “Our son’s name is Ian.”
I looked back at my husband’s squinting, tear-filled eyes and knew that under the surgical mask, he was smiling. You can do all the planning you want and fool yourself with the illusion of control, but in the end, life does not abide by your carefully crafted plan, and you have to just go with your heart. That was just the first of many lessons Ian has taught us.