Choosing our kid-to-be’s first name has been an arduous journey. For one thing, we don’t know whether we’re having a boy or girl. But more importantly, we both feel the weight and responsibility of finding the right name. I don’t know if it’s from reading too much fantasy fiction or what, but the idea of naming something (or someone) — of bequeathing its one, “true” name — is a very powerful idea.
Simply put, we want to come up with a name that means something (to us, to the kid), sounds nice, and we can imagine saying over & over in every imaginable situation or circumstance. And of course won’t leave our kid open to endless schoolyard teasing. One nice thing in that regard is we’re not under any familial pressure to name our kid after some dead or distant relative.
When it comes to kids’ names, our greatest inspiration is a monicker of such beauty, wit, and rhythm that it can never be matched: that of our pal bertozzi‘s daughter, Sabina Edwina LeBonBon Bertozzi. I mean — c’mon!— you can’t compete with perfection!
Anyway, once we finally resolved our last-name issue, we got serious about our first name search. That only left us with about a month before the due date (which is this Sunday, by the way). Fortunately, I had a couple of firm criteria, which helped narrow the potential name pool:
1) The name should come from the Old Testament. Both of us being Jewish — in heritage if not practice — this seemed to make sense.
2) The name could also come from an artistic—or literary, mythic, filmic, musical, or dance-related—source.
3) Sari & I have done a lot of traveling. How about a geographical inspiration?
Er, maybe my criteria weren’t exactly “firm” (And they weren’t even a “couple.”) I just didn’t want to be too restrictive!
We started compiling by consulting a baby naming book, of which there are literally hundreds. Of all those we inherited or borrowed, we went with Daniel Avram Richman’s From Aaron to Zoe: 15,000 Great Baby Names. It’s well-organized, provides good concise origins and meanings, and is stocked with Old Testament/Hebrew names. And as I got immersed in the book, I amended rule #1 a bit to include all names from Antiquity, not just Old Testament ones; I found I really like those Greek and Latin names!
I also perused some of the baby-naming websites for suggestions, but nothing good every really came out of it. Baby Name Wizard, however, with its morphing popularity graphs, is a great way to waste an afternoon.
We kept a little notebook for jotting all the names down, as well as an extensive list of potential middle names (all of which had to be matched up with first names for proper sound and rhythm). Despite the daunting task of looking through every name in the book, we made a system and stuck to it. Whether it was making time after a meal, riding together on the subway, or sitting in the park, we managed to speed through a couple of letters of the alphabet per day, and actually powered through all 15,000 names with two weeks to spare.
From there we threw in names we’d always liked & remembered, and various wild and ridiculous inspirations. Weirdly enough, I’ve kept a list of baby names in my PDA for over ten years now — long before I ever seriously considered the idea of having a kid. That list went in there too.
When all was said & done, and after I’d consolidated and alphabetized all the names, we had nearly 100 girl names and almost 90 boy names to choose from!
Though time was running out, we were actually able to whittle down our unwieldy list fairly easily. The first thing we did was consult the Social Security Administration website of popular baby names. Any name which showed up in the top 50 for either gender was out. Who wants to be known as Chloe N.—as oppsed to Chloe G. and Chloe S.—for the rest of her school career? Sadly, this rule wiped Abigail (#5), Chloe (#18), Eva (#6), Kayla (#26), Lily (#33), Mia (#13), and Sophia (#9) from our list of girl names; and Caleb (#34), Dylan (#26), Elijah (#29), Gabriel (#28), Isaac (#48), Isaiah (#40), Jackson (#36), and Noah (#15) from our list of boy names.
This reduced the list considerably, The next step was simply going through the remaining names and comparing notes. Obviously, the only name we’d end up with was one we both agreed on. If one of us nixed a name, it was permanently crossed off. And some names just didn’t pass the sniff test. Sure, it was fun to imagine monickers like Prague, Bali, Thai, Java, Han, Arwen, Ringo, Corwin, Theseus, Bartleby, Oberon, Ishmael, and Kafka, but none of ’em stood up to real consideration. After all, we’re not celebrities! The real wacky names are reserved for them. (Though I gotta admit I love the names Apple, Shiloh, and Kal-el. Damn that Gwyneth! Darn that Angelina! Curses on that Nic Cage!)
Another factor was having to stay away from names of people we knew, or used to know, or even worse, names of our friends’ kids. That eliminated a lot of cool names! (For instance, years ago, when man_size and bertozzi — pre-Sabina, of course — were roommates, they used to joke about the name of their yet-to-be-born “love child.” So, even though that kid is still a figment, Thor El Shabazz is out.)
Finally, we got our lists down to a manageable 30 or so for each gender. The penultimate step was independently coming up with a list of our top ten names for each gender. Once we compared the lists, any names we had in common would make it into the final round. (I have to confess I wasn’t able to limit myself to ten names. My girl list had 14 names on it, while my boys numbered 12.)
Amazingly enough, after all that, we ended up with eight names in common for each gender! In little over a month, from that initial pool of 15,000+ names, we had narrowed our list of potential names to a handful. (And, by the way, none of the names from my PDA made the final cut…)
Where are we now? Well, we’ve got less than a week to go and are pretty darn close. I think we’re set on a boy’s name, and there are maybe three names in the mix for a little girl. Sari’s of the mindset to wait and see, feeling that once we lay eyes on the little one, her true name will make itself known. I’m willing to go that route — provided we do stick to one of the three possibilities. (Of course, our good pal wjcohen — father of Lila and Ruby — discourages us from that strategy. He says all newborns look like George Burns! And George is. Not. Under. Consideration.)
What’s that? You’re waiting for me to tell you which names are the final candidates?
No, sorry, you’ll just have to wait to find out like everyone else…