A close friend just had her big baby boy (over 9 lbs!) last night. I am so excited, of course, for her and her family. But I’m also dying to know The Name. I love when friends either don’t know or don’t share a name, because of the anticipation and then the joyous announcement. Our son didn’t have a name until they forced us to pick one when they kicked us out of the hospital. We had a few top choices, but I wanted to see him and pick the name that “fit” him. Well, he looked like a grumpy old man. Luckily, we decided to give him a name that we loved, a name that symbolized who I wanted him to be, rather than naming him a name that would fit a grumpy old man.
The name game is a huge part of any pregnancy. Hell, it’s a huge part of any girl’s life. Very few of us girls didn’t spend time playing dress up and trying on different personas and names, or naming our dolls, or later, naming our children with our first boyfriends. (For the record, I was always Brittany Maddox, my Barbies were always Lindsay or Charlotte or Samantha, my Cabbage Patch kid was Franny Kay, and my children were going to be named Skye Paige and Jordan Michael). But once you get pregnant, the name game takes on a heightened urgency. Now’s your chance, to get out those lists and name books and bestow upon your child the perfect name, the name you always wanted, the name that will complete this picture of this child you’ve been imagining for ten months.
But then. The impending importance dampens the fun somewhat. I can’t really name my child West or Wilder, can I? What kind of a child am I creating here, a poet or a baseball player or a future Supreme Court Justice? We want a name that isn’t ugly or trendy, that isn’t too popular nor too “out there,” a name that people hear and think, now that’s a perfect name. We read Nameberry and pore over the social security lists and family trees and think of our favorite books and musicians and Things That Mean Something To Us.
I have a friend, let’s call her Stephanie, that tells the story of how she named her daughter. Stephanie was down to two names, Celine and Sophie. Her friend said, “Call her to the phone. I need to hear them out loud.” So Stephanie says, “Soooophie, phone!” The friend said, “Could be fat. Next?” Stephanie then called, “Celiiine, phone!” Her friend: “Most popular girl in school. Done.” Even though we know this is silly (and that Sophies are far from fat!), it’s what we do. And yes, she named her daughter Celine.
But really, in the end, does it matter? The difference between a Brooks and a Jake, or a Caden or an Aiden is negligible. I mean, Gwyneth Paltrow has an unwieldy and dorky name and look at her. It didn’t hold her back or turn her into a sickly child that is relegated to her bed, sadly staring out the window at the other children playing outside, her long once-blonde hair wrapped in a braid round and round the crown of her head. (For some reason, this is what I think of when I hear the name “Gwyneth.”) According to the smart guys that wrote Freakonomics, names don’t matter all that much or dictate how successful you might become.
Still. I’m reminded of a hysterical conversation a close friend and I had once. By hysterical I mean that we had too much wine, and therefore we found this conversation hysterical. I’m pretty sure if you’d been sitting next to us, you would have been rolling your eyes at us, the giggling drunk girls in the corner. No matter. This girl and I are kindred spirits. Both lawyers, both avid readers, both writers. We share a love for the written word, sarcasm, fantastic shoes, and happy hours. We have the ability to watch someone enter a room, look at each other, and come to the exact same conclusion without saying a word. Needless to say, we found each other in law school pretty quickly, two girls who desperately needed someone else that understood the importance of the latest episode of Friends and The O.C. (yes, both were still on, thank you very much), read Vogue and The New Yorker regularly, knew the difference between a Choo and a Louboutin, and still wanted to read books by Atwood and Roth and Eugenides. Have you met many law students? The fact that even one existed was a huge miracle.
So you’d think, no matter our names, we’d be friends, right? Hmmm. I’m not so sure. So the silly conversation centered on our “almost” names. You know, the names that your parents considered bestowing on you but decided not to. Mine was Julie. Hers was Miranda. We shared these names, and in the exact same instant said, “Oh, Julie would NEVER be friends with Miranda. And Miranda would HATE Julie!”
We knew instantly that Julie would have been a superficial, narrow-minded cheerleader, a girl that never wanted to leave Texas and wouldn’t read anything BUT US Weekly. (We read US Weekly, yes, but we also read the newspapers. It’s a balance thing). Julie would tolerate Miranda, but would find her too serious and boring.
Miranda would have despised Julie for her popularity and easy way in life, for the way she didn’t question anything and could be friends with people that said stupid things. Miranda would never read US Weekly and would probably only read novels by dead French or Russian men. Miranda would get out of Texas the first chance she got and would never ever twirl her hair for a boy.
Of course, this is silly and we are who we are. But I think we touched on something. Those versions of Julie and Miranda are facets of who we actually are, a version of ourselves that could have been. There are elements of Julie and Miranda in me, as in my friend. What we sussed out were those extreme elements, those parts of us that we are afraid might have taken over our lives.
Whether or not actually naming me Julie and her Miranda would have led us in different directions, of course who knows. But I’m glad I’m not Julie. I’m glad she’s not Miranda. I’m glad that we have both of us in there, that we can understand the fun of a little low brow culture, and also recognize the importance of expanding your mind and having different experiences. I’m glad I found her in law school, that she and I got kicked out of a Bible study for asking if we could bring wine, and that we also started the best book club I’ve ever been part of.
What is in a name? Who knows? But have you ever wondered if you’d be a different person if you had a different name? What was your “almost” name? Would you change your name if you could?
For the record, I love my name and am very glad that my parents picked it. Now my middle name, that’s a different story.