The Name Game.

Last weekend we went for a late breakfast in our favourite cafe. Having completed the “Arrivals Dance”, (take our own coats off; take their coats off; balance the coats on the back of pushchair; wheel said pushchair out of the way; secure BSCB in a high chair; pick up the hats, scarves, and gloves which have been scattered across the floor by The Eldest; extricate The Eldest’s fingers from the sugar bowl/ tongue from the pepper grinder; remove all breakable items from the alarmingly wide destruction zone around the BSCB; swap chairs with the table next door because The Eldest wants the pink chair and its really not worth the argument; and deal with the demands for apple juice that are increasing in volume by the second) we finally sat down, sweating, only for The Eldest to pipe up “Mummyyyy IIII neeed a pooooo.” I took one for the team and scarpered to the toilet so The Eldest could do her business (“Close your eyes mummy. Close your eyes and face the wall.”) while the “husband” settled in with the BSCB for company.

Where we live is one of London’s Nappy Valleys therefore it was not particularly surprising that upon my return I realised that the couple we were sharing the table with were expecting a baby. As I sat down, the “Husband” was dutifully perpetuating the myth that parenthood can be neatly summed up with the words “Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s worth it”, when the father-to-be surprised us somewhat with a comment that one of his most pressing concerns was choosing a name. Well. I practically choked swallowing my immediate response of “Jeffin’ ‘ell, mate, there’s a lot more to worry about than that!” and instead replaced it with, “Oh yes, I know what you mean. We didn’t name The Eldest for four days.” I couldn’t see his partner’s face as we were having this exchange, but I imagine a jaw clench and eye roll being part of the picture as she contemplated her most pressing concern being how she was going to squeeze an actual person out of what had previously been a one-way street. Innocent of our incredulity he continued to express how heavily the burden of naming a child was weighing on him, and slowly, my superior-socks rolled down around my ankles as I realised that his concern was not totally unfounded.

To be honest, I am being a touch facetious in my mocking of this father-to-be, as the importance of getting the name “right” is something that bothers most parents, although exactly what “right’ looks like varies enormously. In our case, the “husband’s” surname is one syllable longer than the vast majority of Anglo-Saxon surnames. This results in some interesting pronunciations (my all-time-favourite has to be “Fannyraver”), and influenced our choice of names for our children. Our criteria for The Eldest’s first name were that it had to be short and familiar, but not too common. We hit the nail on the head. However, we somewhat blew the criteria when she was given a “cultural” middle name, plus my surname as a second middle name (going double-barrelled was not an option – making the poor girl learn to write that missive would be tantamount to child abuse). Despite our best efforts, her full name is 13 syllables long. Even worse, when the BSCB rolled into town we went even more extreme and chose a name that means that, when his “cultural” name and my surname are taken into account, he has a name that has 14 syllables and uses 20 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. He’s screwed if Twitter is still around when he’s ready and able.

When all is said and done, however, we are happy with our choices – we feel they are strong names that reflect our children’s mixed heritage and are names that we could imagine being shouted across a football pitch or spoken across a boardroom. Because this is the thing – when naming your child you don’t only think about your own likes and dislikes, you also have to consider what impression of your child people are forming when they hear their name. Don’t you? Perhaps we were being a bit “stiff” and over-thinking this but I have to admit that when choosing names we did consider their future, who they might become, and whether ascribing them a particular name might at some point embarrass them or worse, hold them back. What really interests me, however, is that some parents either don’t think about this at all, or have an entirely different set of aspirations around who their child might become.

I’ve been a teacher in South London for 12 years and in that time I have taught students from a wide range of cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds. At times I have paused in astonishment at the start of a school year when running an eye over the registers of the classes I will be teaching. Of course there are the inevitable names, in all of their glorious forms, that pay tribute to favourite designers or alcoholic beverages, but I have also taught three brothers all of whom had the first name of Sir – thankfully, only the youngest of the three insisted on the prefix being applied to his other name. Not only this, I have taught a child whose name was CJ – short for Carrot Juice – who allegedly had a brother called AJ – Apple Juice – and a sister called Cinnamon. Now, its well worth mentioning that some of these children were absolutely delightful individuals from lovely, caring families. I don’t actually have a problem with parents choosing whatever name they wish but let’s be sensible, when Queen Ann (yes, really) sends you her CV, what is your first thought going to be? Then again, what do I know?

Soon after The Eldest was born, I went home to the mainly working-class Northern town where I grew up. To my surprise and mild dismay, every time I introduced her I was met with the blank look often assumed by people trying to politely disguise their distaste. The inevitable pause before expressing approval was a dead giveaway that the name was not quite having the warm welcome I had hoped its familiarity would evoke. You see, the middle-class London-centric love affair with old-fashioned names does not seem to have rippled out above the Watford Gap. The only association people seemed to make with The Eldest’s name was a dead Irish aunt or granny who had clearly had a hairy chin, or stank of piss, so unfavourable was their reaction. Obviously this did not shake our conviction that we had chosen a “good” name, but it demonstrates perfectly that, as I said earlier in this post, there is no one definition of “right” when it comes to choosing a name for your child.

To further illustrate that you can’t predict how people will perceive your chosen name, another aspect of The Eldest’s name that we had not really considered was that it is an Old Testament name. Just by chance, so is The BSCB’s. Their names also begin with the letters A and Z respectively, and on more than one occasion we have now been asked if we purposely chose two Old Testament names, or if the reference to the beginning and end of the alphabet was intentional. The answers to both of these questions is no, but completely unintentionally we have apparently created the impression that we are Bible bashing alphabet enthusiasts who have a fetish for road maps.

SO, despite my initial reaction to scoff at the father-to-be in our favourite cafe, indeed he had a point. The choosing of your child’s name is incredibly important, just don’t expect the carefully thought out reasons for your selection to actually mean anything to anyone else. More important than anything else is that you choose something that feels good to you.

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