What's in a name

When I was pregnant with Nora, we decided not to tell anyone the name we chose for her until she was born. And it was a good thing, too. For years, my husband and I had a name all picked out for our firstborn-to-be, but then, when I was about five months into the pregnancy, the name "Nora" came to me out of blue, while I was soaking my sore feet in the bathtub, and the old name was immediately tossed. What a pain it would have been to issue a retraction!

Plus, even though "Nora" felt right from the moment it popped into my head, we did want to make sure that it still fit once we met our baby. Maybe she just wouldn't be a "Nora" once she arrived. I'm not sure how we would have been able to tell that, exactly, based on the personality traits displayed by a brand-newborn, but, you know, all sorts of weird things seem to make sense when you're pregnant, am I right? So again, we didn't want to have to go through having to re-tell the name to everyone if we changed it, not to mention the awkwardness it might have caused with monogrammed gifts. Horrors!

And, admittedly, a small part of the decision to keep the name to ourselves stemmed from wanting to avoid the name-haters. There are people out there who aren't afraid to ask about a baby-to-be's name and then wrinkle their noses at the response or inform you that they had a crazy ex with that name a long time ago. Sigh.

Luckily, when I'm on the receiving end of hearing a new kid's name, I have the ability to suppress the nose-wrinkling and keep quiet about any bad personal associations. But that doesn't mean I don't judge.

When I learned that one acquaintance has a kid whose name is a British euphemism for penis, I kept quiet (it was tough). When a very fertile friend announces a new birth once every couple years, I giggle (internally) at the inevitable redneck name bestowed on the new bundle of joy. When I hear about people making a common name "unique" with an usual spelling, I roll my eyes, but only in private.

There was a time when people, especially in our nation of immigrants, tried to choose names that were as straight and narrow as possible, with the aim of the almighty fitting-in – hence all the Jennifers in my generation, and all the Marys from a generation before, and all the Johns and Georges and Williams throughout time. But now we want our kids to stand out, and that requires some creativity. Like all creative endeavors, sometimes you hit the mark, and sometimes you miss. Sometimes people get what you're doing, and sometimes they make fun of you behind your back for invoking a euphemism for male genitalia.

But I guess what I learned is that sometimes lightning just strikes when you're considering baby names, and if you come up with a name that feels perfect, then maybe it is -- for you (and, hopefully, for your kid). Let the haters hate – or, better yet, just keep them in the dark as long as possible.

More on this topic, and an interesting look at some very specific naming trends, from NPR.