Let me set the scene. I’m currently 34 weeks pregnant with my second child, and freaking out. I’m reading a book called The Second Baby Survival Guide – and it’s doing nothing to soothe my anxieties. Everyone keeps asking how I am, if our toddler is excited (she doesn’t have a clue what’s going on) and – every time – do we have a name?
Traditionally, names were handed down the family tree, new babies were simply given the name of their grandparent or a relative. Little baby John or Mary. Happy days. No messing around. Today? It seems each pregnancy is an opportunity to ‘discover’ the perfect name – whether that means unusual, but not too weird, or totally unique, while also considering every possible nickname, and anticipating what the school bullies might think of (my husband’s boarding school background makes this practically a sport, as he takes glee in coming up with crude interpretations of sweet little names, lightning fast, such as Saggy Maggie – and it’s making our choices pretty limited…).
Hours are spent on websites dedicated to names, with endless lists based on themes, origins and initials. Trends are predicted, top 100 countdowns created (some people use these for inspiration – others add them to the ‘absolutely not’ pile) and boundaries are pushed, with the most out-there parents adding in punctuation, or ditching/adding letters to make the name ‘their own’. I’ll never forget a teacher friend telling me about a pupil called T-A. Pronounced ‘Tadasha’. “You say the dash, Miss”.
The modern trend for old lady names isn’t going away, but I personally can’t wait – just for sheer amusement – for when we start to use names from our parents’ generation. Baby Maureen. Little Barbara. Clive. Dennis. Bonny little Geoffrey. Not a single Carol was born in 2014. These are the names that might die out – though that’s perhaps not a good enough reason to use them.
Speaking from experience, what starts as a simple online search can take you down the rabbit hole, and you emerge, bleary-eyed, WhatsApping your husband with a new shortlist, where ‘Bathsheba’ is the most mainstream. You look into their origins, and dismiss perfectly good names because you don’t like the meaning (Cecily was a favourite until I learnt it meant ‘blind’).
Then you find one or two that fit. Something you could imagine saying countless times a day – and you will! – that works with your surname, a planned middle name, with their sibling’s names, that won’t invite mockery. And you might tell a couple of people, or you’ll hold it close, like a secret. While it’s tempting to share this treasured name and see the reaction, sometimes you won’t like the reaction…
Or maybe you’ve had a name since you were a child, that you dreamt of giving your little boy or girl. Job done. But someone ‘steals’ it, and it’s the end of your world. I’ve seen online forums and Facebook groups where mums-to-be are practically squaring up for a fight with their sister-in-law or life-long friend over a baby name – and that’s when you need to have a chat with yourself.
The most important thing is that you, as parents, like the name, for you are the ones who are going to be saying it over and over and over again – with joy and frustration – from morning until night. The name becomes part of your child’s identity. You might go the hospital armed with a few possibilities and choose one when you see the baby – you choose the name that fits and feels right; years later you won’t be able to imagine that child being called anything else.
For me, the criteria are simple: I want a name that works on a child, but won’t seem out of place if she wants to be a barrister. Something feminine but not… mimsy.
Do we have a name? Yes. Am I telling you what it is? Definitely not.
Helen is the author of The Mothership, a no-holds-barred blog on the trials and tribulations of being a mother.
Helen has trained with the UK Society of Celebrants, and is now conducting baby naming ceremonies in the UAE. Perfect for parents looking to formally welcome their child without a religious service, Helen works with families to create a personalised ceremony to include readings, promises from parents and guardians, and special touches like a letter box where guests can leave notes to be read on the child’s 18th birthday. Many people choose to have a naming ceremony followed by drinks or lunch, and they can be as small or as large as you prefer. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update: Since writing this article, Helen has given birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and we can reveal that they called her Tabitha!
Reals mums tell it like it is:
Tabitha Barda , Baby & Child team member:
“When I asked Helen to write this column I wanted her to highlight the absurdity of how possessive and silly we can get about names, and how it doesn’t matter if your friend calls their child the same name as your child’s – it’s just a name! And then I found out Helen called her baby Tabitha...so I guess I got a taste of my own medicine!”
Jess Micallef, mum of Noah and Arlo:
“I definitely identify with the stress of choosing a name; I mean your child will be stuck with it for the rest of their life – no pressure! You have to account for how they might look, what they might want to do when they’re older, what other people more famous than you might call their babies, family members’ names... the list goes on!
Tsian Koussa, mum of Theo:
“Choosing a name gave us so much anxiety. We avoided it for a good four months! Our shortlist changed lots; I even did the Starbucks test (where you order a coffee and use the name you’re considering to get an idea of how easy it is to spell or pronounce). In the end we thought we should meet the little one to see if he looked like a Theo and he did!”
Nazish Inam Esmail, mum of Ayaan and Lamaar:
“We wanted something unique with a nice meaning and Arabic or Muslim heritage, so it took a while for us to come up with our list! We called our first-born Ayaan and our second-born we called Lamaar (no, we didn’t name him after the Kardashians!). We love their names and could not imagine them as anything else!
Rebecca Munns, mum of Madeleine:
“My Dad’s got a ‘unique’ sense of humour, so certain names were vetoed due to how we thought he’d react. Oliver was a no go – Grandad would almost certainly break into a rendition of the musical every time he saw his grandson – while Annabelle or Isabelle would involve bike or door bells given as birthday presents. You get the picture!”