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What’s In A Child’s Name?


One of the less magical aspects of bringing forth a new life is choosing a name for that life. It’s one of those exercises that seems exciting when it’s theoretical. When it’s abstract, it’s easy to imagine suitable answers. When the need becomes concrete, it gets much messier, for the same reason the creation of life is messy—there are two people involved.

Once you find yourself discussing names during an actual, concrete pregnancy, you have to remember that one of the people involved in this conversation is brain-addled and digging deep, suggesting possibilities of Japanese origin from the “Big Giant Book of Baby Names,” which is not to be confused with the “Giant Big Book of Names for Babies.” The other person is busy drinking for two. As such, he may indelicately point out that Keiko Cromwell, just to invent an example wholly from the cloth, is ridiculous for two people of pallor whose ancestors hail primarily from the disparate lands of the United Kingdom, and the sprinkling of France and Germany doesn’t move you that far eastward.

After a small battle or three, Keiko gets scratched off the list and you somehow settle on a name from one of three spheres.

Three Spheres from Which to Choose

The easier sphere is the one in the middle, the juicy center of the Venn diagram. It’s not an automatic choice; you have to circle around the Far East for a minute. Somehow, though, the two of you coalesce around a name from this zone. It’s amenable to everyone, even grandparents and others you mistakenly share the name with prior to the birth of the child.

In the outer sphere, the hardest sphere, you have a meaningful name that you wrestle over, which is ultimately perfect, and which no one can pronounce on sight.

Off in the easiest zone, at least for the parents, you have a name on which you can agree without much thought or even a hint of battle, a name from your list of girl names that affords you a moment of zen in which you can look at one another and say, “So, that’s it.” A name which is awesome but requires you to explain that you’re talking about a book, not a movie, and then yell at the clouds old-man style because nobody reads anymore.

In the outer sphere, the hardest sphere, you have a meaningful name that you wrestle over, which is ultimately perfect, and which no one can pronounce on sight.

There’s a chance each of my progeny reside in one of these three spheres.

The process by which the first two were named is a tad more complicated than the shorthand suggests. The first was likely at risk for never having a name even though we ultimately ended up in the center of the diagram. When she emerged a redhead with a proclivity for talking at length, we thanked serendipity. The middle one really was easy. We found out she was a she and said, “So, that’s it. She’s named.” Again, serendipity was on our side, although she prefers dresses with tights and long hair while climbing. With the third though, well, there’s an opportunity for a story. And for my wife and me, it began with an odd quirk.

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

The fancy way to describe this quirk is to say I’m a logophile. I don’t just love sentences, I love words. When I see some sequence of letters that defies the logic of the Romance languages, I’m intrigued. When that sequence happens to belong to an artist behind a song I am rather fond of, I take to Google. And when circumstances converge such that my logophilia and the baby in question find themselves in synergy, I can be quite insistent. Also persuasive. Especially when metaphysics are involved.

It goes like this. Sometime before No. 3, I discovered the song “Here and Heaven” by the Goat Rodeo Sessions. The song is a fine bit of marital advice set to music. It features Aoife O’Donovan. And if you look at A-O-I-F-E and immediately form a correct pronunciation, then you’re a better logophile than I.

Me, I can divine many words based on experience, but that particular sequence of letters offered no clues at all. It’s a confusing jumble that looks “Hooked on Phonics” square in the eye and says, “Kiss my ass.” But I searched and discovered that, much like the last name of an especially successful basketball coach from Duke or the word Wednesday, the key is to skip over most of the letters while mispronouncing others. I’ll save you a step and offer a musical interlude that shows pronunciation and “Here and Heaven.”

Maybe your knowledge of Celtic is better than mine, but ee-fah was not what I was expecting. It’s simple, clean. Really just Eva with an F.

The Mythology Behind Aoife

The stories behind the name are interesting too, if not wholly pleasant. Warrior queen. Martial artist. Tutor. The name itself, on the other hand, means “beautiful, radiant, joyful.” So it’s a nice dichotomy. The yin and the yang. It satisfied my logophilia. It reminded my wife that she’d married a madman and borne two of his children. As such, it goes without saying that she remained unconvinced.

We wanted ‘normal,’ so we named her after a warrior.

Then there was a fateful visit to the doctor. The ultrasound. The discovery that there might be an amniotic band dangling inside the womb. Then came the confirmation. There was indeed an amniotic band a-dangling and we wouldn’t know much more than that until the delivery.

Pregnancies are a frightening and risky proposition, no matter how normal they are. Throw in a curveball, even one that is unlikely to cause any major harm, and they get much more frightening. But in this case there was a defense. Amniotic bands do not dangle as swords, ready to immediately inflict damage. They take time. They have to get wrapped around the little one. A baby who is bouncing around, moving, bobbing, and weaving is unlikely to get wrapped up. Thus our choice took on an extra dimension.

It wasn’t an immediate decision. My wife made the obvious arguments. Her teachers will hate us. She’ll hate us. All callers of names from forms will hate us. But we needed a warrior. Sure, it was selfish; if she were born without a leg or a hand, that would be her world, the only one she’d know. The hang-up was ours. We wanted “normal,” so we named her after a warrior.

Don’t Worry, Serendipity Is Still There for You

And thus No. 3 came to be Aoife. When she was born, she was born completely free from any effects of the amniotic band. But she is fierce. Maybe they do grow into the name.

Before Aoife, we were never big on meaningful names, on names that represented something.

Before Aoife, we were never big on meaningful names, on names that represented something. With Greer and Scout, we just went with ones that were right for the moment, oblivious to what serendipity had in store. With Aoife, there was a purpose, a reason. And if when she curses us for it, we have a story to tell her. A story she can tell. She may not immediately appreciate it, but in time she will. Just as Greer the loquacious redhead and Scout the thrill-seeking tomboy, if also a lover of the color pink and trips to the salon, can appreciate the appropriateness of their names.

Aoife, just a shade beyond two years old, is a fearsome little ball of terror. A growling destroyer. A warrior. She’s also beautiful and given to moments of extreme joy; reminiscent of when she emerged unharmed as our little bundle of joy. But don’t cross her. You won’t like her when she’s angry (which, though exhausting, is worth it). Our house wouldn’t be our home without our loquacious, adventurous, snarling demon trio. So even though their personalities are more from us than from their names, we wouldn’t go back and risk giving them more sedate options or second-guess serendipity. Although it would be nice if they destroyed fewer things or stopped talking ever or even if I could just find my house keys.