With Storm Ophelia en route to our front door it got me thinking about names. Ophelia is one of those names that as a teenager I would have longed for. So romantic and unusual I had never met a real life Ophelia but the name conjured up such a fascinating and exotic creature.
I’ve always been interested in names, maybe because my own is a little unusual, always unique in my class in school and it generally provides a talking point when I meet someone new. I never ever forget a name and I love imagining what people will be like based on their name. All the Daisys and Mollys I’ve met have been quirky, interesting, creative types and as a result they are two of my favourite names. My extremely loveable Granddads were Billy and John and I can’t help but feel a warmth toward those names. Similarly there are some names that are just tainted by association and when we were choosing a name for Little P that was one of the problems. Despite that it was remarkably easier then I expected to choose a name in the end.
We found two names that we were both very enthusiastic about. Then, a few months before Little P was born a family member unwittingly chose one of our names for their new cat so at that stage we really only had one option! It’s a tricky process though and one that can cause a lot of angst. There can be pressure to agree on a name not just between partners but with extended family too.
I also found that when it comes to naming your own child sometimes the name you thought was the most beautiful in the world just doesn’t fit. Which brings me back to Ophelia. It was certainly on my list along with Leonora, Gwendoline, Paloma, Allegra – all names that I adore but they just didn’t feel right. We decided to ‘road test’ our choices by talking to the bump using any names we were considering. This works surprisingly well and lets you find out if you can ‘live’ with a name. This is how we eventually arrived at our shortlist of two, they were the ones that just felt right. By the time she was born we had been calling her Little P for so many weeks that she really was our Little P.
The name ‘trends’ that change over generations and cultures also influence our choices. Obviously in previous generations most names in Ireland were family names or saints’ names. Today popular culture plays a much more important role in influencing us. When names enter into the zeitgeist, just like memes, they keep reappearing. So if suddenly it feels like everyone you know is having a Freya or an Oliver it’s probably because as people hear these names more like them, pass them on or use them and suddenly they are ‘trending’. So although names like Brenda, Maire, Paul or John may not be as popular today as they were in previous generations it’s likely that they will reappear for a future generation.
It’s little wonder that we attach so much importance to choosing a baby name. Names are so important to us as humans. Down through the centuries a name carried so much meaning. It was an indicator of family origin, occupation, wealth, even character. Having no name at all was even more significant. If you think of stories like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ the protagonists are stripped of their humanity, their freedom and symbolically their birth names. Our name is a a signifier of our humanity, of being somebody. In the movie ‘Castaway’ the famous volleyball only becomes a real companion to Chuck Noland when he names it ‘Wilson’. People name their pets, their cars even their houses. We encourage small children to name their toys and of course one of the first questions they are asked when they learn to speak is ‘What’s your name?’
So, if you are currently trawling naming websites and books, keep doing it because it’s a wonderful distraction during what can feel like a very long nine months! Road test as many names as you like but try to keep most of them to yourself. You can be sure that your mother once knew a woman whose cousin was called ‘insert name you love’ and everybody called him ‘insert terrible nickname’! Don’t get too hung up on it though because whatever name you choose your child will embody that name, not the other way around. Even if you knew a thousand ‘Marys’ once you have your own she will become THE Mary.
Anyway, as Shakespeare knew, a little babe by any other name would still smell as sweet xx