Monday, January 30, 2006


I call my oldest girl Petunia Moon, a name that stuck when she was a small child stumbling through flowerbeds with her blue-saucer eyes. She doesn't stumble now...but her eyes remain that distinctive shade of blue like the edges of a full moon on a cold night. My son has been nicknamed, quite simply, "my boy-o" because he is my only one and he doesn't mind it. He has a name he calls me, as well--"beautiful angel". He emphatically declares it as my identity and I love him for it. The baby, of course, is "the baby" or Rosie or Rosie-Bear (Rose is the middle name picked by her sister the morning after she was born). These names are their "heart names" to me. Their birth names are ones we worked very hard to find--searching through layers and layers of the meanings, origins, popularity, and even sounds of the letters. But, these others are fluid and organic--they just simply arose out of life in the family--and I love them as well.

These nicknames are just the ones I use, though. M. calls the children by names all his own and they include at any given moment: pudding, hammer, pigeon, boy, girl, hon, and princess. These shift at random moments--and I have teased him several times about some of them. He raises his eyebrow as he looks at me,
"Didn't you...for a long time...actually call our son Mr. Pants?"
This usually shuts me up. If not, he'll politely continue with a smile playing at the corners of his mouth,
"And...didn't you actually lobby very hard to name our oldest Pandora?"
Which works like a charm, because I have no come-back here. Yes, I did lobby for the name Pandora...but I was twenty years old and had just taken mythology the semester before, so I blame it all on the heart-felt rendition of Pandora's tale and the birth of Hope by my crusty old professor with his broken eyeglasses and flannel shirts.

In other cultures, having many names is very common. There are names to ward off evil, family names, ceremonial names, names for different stages of the life cycle. Here, our parents get to choose our one and only (unless we are heterosexual females who decide to take on the husband's name). We find it strange that others change names in different communities, but you'll find very few Richards who aren't called something else...very few Thomases, Elizabeths, and Victorias. Rich-Rick-Tom-Tommy-Liz-Beth-Vicky-Tori...sure, you'll get plenty of those. My own M. has gone so exclusively by the nickname "Scarp" that I didn't even know his "birth name" until long after I was already in love. My parents used nicknames when they felt like doing so, and didn't when they didn't. M.'s parents only use their children's (and grandchildren's) full first shortening, no abbreviations, no nicknames. I can understand the logic there. I really believed with all of my heart that I would firmly fall in the same camp after the hours of research into my babies' names. Why would I ever deviate from the "chosen ones"? I don't know...but, somehow I have.

I am always floored when parents tell me they "have no idea what their child's name means" or when they "had no real reason for the name they just liked it". Now, I realize that this is probably the more common way to choose a name--based on a knee-jerk response. It is perfectly legitimate and probably a lot more fun than the deep etymological research I subjected our children's names to. But, I am a word-junkie, as mentioned before, and I could never casually apply a word to the most significant piece of work I will ever produce in my lifetime--my child. I am jealous of those who could. There are a number of lovely names whose meanings would make my toes curl...Esau, interesting and short--well, it means hairy. Fabulous Fabiana is a bean farmer. Cutie-pie Cameron means "bent nose"...and Andrea means "manly". It can get much, much scarier. I don't know why, but these things matter to me. Yes, the names are very appealing--but, I cannot transcend the meanings. So, I've worked hard on names to give my kids silly nicknames, make any sense? No. But, I never claimed to.

Maybe it's my parents' fault. They let my sister and I choose our own middle names by leaving them blank until our Confirmation. Most Catholics suddenly get an extra name, quickly chosen and more quickly forgotten. We could finally stop leaving spaces blank on forms because it became our legal middle name instead. What did I choose? Well, at thirteen or so, after considerable research--I settled on Delia because it was Irish and had belonged to a great-grandmother...oh, and I kid you not, because Delia was the Greek Goddess of the Moon. My heart name is part of my birth children may all grow up and change their names to Jane, John, and Jill. That will be their choice...we have a whole slew of ideas on rotation around these parts...trying on names and shedding them like too-tight clothes we've outgrown and left behind.


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