What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name? June 20, 2011

by Kira Nuit

Imagine one of your kid’s friends at the door asking “can Floribunda come out to play?” Or, when young Floribunda gets into trouble, imagine how you might feel barking out, “Floribunda Oregano Sunbeam!” I’ve heard some names on the playground that I would not want to holler out my back door at suppertime.

One of the first things confronting pregnant couples is what to name their baby. Throughout history we have bequeathed the names of our ancestors, named our children to honor heroes or royalty, and given our children names with qualities we hope they inherit. We often name our children after our holy figures and our myths. Since the names our parents give us mark us throughout our lives (whether we like them or not), it’s a huge responsibility. I personally found it intimidating. In my efforts to appropriately yet creatively name my daughter, I kept these qualities in mind: the commonality, pronunciation, implication, and emotions inherent in the names I gave her.

The first question I asked myself in evaluating any name for my child was: how many other children are likely to have this name? Just as our popular culture is saturated with certain names (boy names from the Bible, or the ubiquitous Jennifers and Heathers of my generation), our subcultures have their favorites.  How many kids named Raven, Rowan, or Willow do you know? I actually did read those “most popular baby name” lists in order to know what to avoid. I also paid attention to the names of upcoming children in my community.

Next I considered the pronunciation of a potential name. How likely, and in what ways, would the name be mispronounced? Would any of those mispronunciations or misspellings lead to terrible puns that would embarrass my child for years? And, of course, I considered my child learning to spell her name in kindergarten; no need to make that an ordeal (Arianrhod’s parents, I’m looking at you).

Then I considered the spiritual implications the names. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I think it’s courting hubris to name your child after a deity. I know that people all over the world do it; Mary, for example. If we believe that our gods are involved in our lives, Mary is a good choice. She is the kind of goddess who probably enjoys lending her blessing to children through Her name. However, if Sekhmet’s stories are true, She would probably not be as interested. I wanted to make sure that I considered Who or what I might be evoking with my naming. I didn’t want to saddle her with something impossible to live with or grow into. (I know a couple who named their first child Anakin. I really wonder what kind of mythology will flavor that kid’s life.)

Another implication that must be considered is whether the names we choose will mark our children as outsiders. How far under the radar do you keep your spirituality? Are you proud of your faith and happy for anyone to know it? Is it fair to assume that little Silverhawk will feel the same way? I figure that any child of mine is going to color outside of the lines set by society, so I didn’t want to make it harder for her to find her balance between the call of her heart, the lifestyle of our family, and the pressure of her peers. If you feel strongly about giving your child an unusual name, consider putting the more creative bits in the middle. That way the kid can have the first name as a cloak of protection if needed, and can always choose to go by the middle name if preferred.

Finally, I tried to think about how my daughter might feel about the name I wanted to give her. Would she think it was stupid? Would she be embarrassed by what her friends will find on Wikipedia? What if she didn’t like it? (There’s an easy answer to that one: give your kid more than one name. Plenty of other cultures do it. An American birth certificate will only allow two names plus the surname, but my daughter has six. That way she has lots of choices. And I won’t get upset if she scraps them all and picks her adult name herself — how could I bat an eye when most of the adults in her life have done the same?)

In the end, I chose a first name for my daughter that was unusual but not strange to the ears of someone who hadn’t studied mythology. (As an added bonus, it’s in a rock and roll song of my generation, so I can tell people how to pronounce it.) I made sure that the goddess in the myth had a good story that might inspire my daughter. I read many different versions of the myth so I wouldn’t have any surprises: the heroine has challenges but nothing horrific or tragic that might be echoed in my daughter’s life. Most importantly, while I went into the hospital with the list of names I’d considered for my daughter, I didn’t make my final decision until I met her. I waited until I’d looked into her eyes for the first time and held her skin-to-skin.

Naming a child is a complex and personal thing. While I have opinions — as does everyone who enters the realm of parenting! — they are just opinions. I think my opinions are brilliant, of course, but if you end up naming your child Hazelnut Bluebell Wolfheart after all, I will still think zhe is a beautiful baby.

Kira Nuit is a writer, geek, textile artist, witch and mother. She strives to build a simple and fulfilling life that integrates all her parts — which includes figuring out how to provide excellent care for her infant daughter while also bathing regularly. She writes about it at Earth Mama Prime.

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