Tune that name

Anna has expressed an interest in hearing how we decided on names, so…

One thing we never had any problem with in my first pregnancy was decisions on names.  When Barry and I first started dating, he told me that he wanted to call his first son James, after a friend of his who had died far too young in an asthma attack.  It wasn’t a name I’d have thought of choosing myself (I rather liked David), but it wasn’t a name I had any great objection to, and that was the kind of reason I wasn’t going to argue with.  The name James had one other advantage, for me – it fitted in with a family tradition.  My aunt, two of her four children, and at least one of each of their children have names beginning with J.  I have no idea whether this was all part of a deliberate plan or not, but, although I wouldn’t have chosen a name for that reason, I rather liked the idea of having a name that happened to go along with the theme.

Meanwhile, I’d already decided I wanted to call a daughter Abigail – not for a reason as dramatic as that, but just because I really liked the name itself, the meaning (father’s joy, or source of joy), and the cultural background.  Barry was all right with that one, and there we were with names picked out for our first child before we’d even moved in together.  Middle names, which I picked, were very nearly as easy.  For a boy’s middle name I wanted Michael, after my father.  For a girl, I originally liked the idea of Constance after my mother and Esther after a great-aunt, mainly because of the initials this would give her, but Barry vetoed that and I came up with Joanna, the female version of John, which is Barry’s middle name and his father’s first name and which I thought went well with Abigail.  So there we were, all sorted.  In fact, we’d even got as far as a choice of first name for a second daughter – Kathryn, after a friend of mine from another Internet forum.  When women posted on the parenting forums about the difficulties they were having finding names and pleaded for help, I felt rather smug.  Then we faced the issue of what we were going to call our second child, and I realised that, as far as boy’s names were concerned, we seemed to have completely shot our bolt. 

A girl’s name, of course, was no problem, although I did go for some fine-tuning.  By then, we had decided we weren’t going to be having a third child, so I knew that if we did have a daughter then that would be my one chance to use any girl’s names I wanted to use.  Joanna was the one that ended up getting sacrified.  Kathryn had grown on me as a name in the intervening years, and, besides, Kathryn Abigail seems to have more of a flow to it than Abigail Kathryn, so that was the order I went for.  Then Barry realised I was planning on spelling it the same way as our friend did and vetoed that – he prefers traditional spelling.  For practically all names I do as well, but I rather liked Kathryn as a spelling – however, I was quite OK with Katherine as well, and it’s his baby too, and, besides, Katherine happens to be my sister’s middle name, so I went along with that one and Katherine Abigail a girl shall be.  But a boy?  It wasn’t that we didn’t have ideas – we had plenty of them.  It was just that neither of us liked any of the names that the other one liked.

Eventually, after a whole lot of discussion, we picked out a second son’s name by the well-known "Mmmmmm.  Possible" method – you know, the one where, after your spouse has turned down a long list of names that you come up with and vice versa, one of you finally comes up with a name to which the other one says "Mmmmmm.  Possible" and that one gets short-listed and after a few more weeks or months of turning down other names you’ve decided that that one actually doesn’t sound too bad after all and eventually you just decide to go with it.  This is what we came up with for the "Mmmmmm.  Possible" shortlist, and how:

William.  This was Barry’s choice and my "Mmmmmm.  Possible."  It’s actually a name I like a lot – solid traditional name with a meaning I liked (‘will-helmet’) – but what put me off was that I couldn’t quite seem to find a nickname I could live with.  I like Will, but it’s somehow not quite soft enough for me to be able to picture myself burbling it into his belly button as I get him dressed or shouting it up the stairs (the ultimate tests of the name you choose) and I was concerned it would degenerate into Willie or, worse, Wills, both of which were absolutely, utterly, out as far as I was concerned.  (Damn.  I’m now going to find out that I have a reader who calls his or her son that and whom I’ve just mortally offended.  Sorry.)

Alfred.  This one was actually an "Mmmmmm.  Possible" for both of us (we were getting a bit desperate by then).  I came up with it because it’s my father-in-law’s middle name (his first name, John, was out – having two children with the same initial is more confusion than I want to get into once they get old enough to get letters, and, besides, I felt if I had two boys named James and John people would probably start looking for the fundamentalist fish on my car).  Again, it had a whole lot to recommend it – family link, also happened to be the name of the greatest monarch England ever had, as traditional as it gets, easy to spell and pronounce, a meaning we liked (‘elf-counsel’) and with a cute nickname in Alfie.  Oddly enough, I used to dislike the name Alfie and somehow it grew on me as the years went by until one of my patients called her son that and I found myself thinking "You know, that’s actually rather sweet." 

The problem with Alfred was, in fact, the reverse of the problem with William – I liked the nickname just fine, but wasn’t so keen on the name.  The problem was that it just didn’t come from the right age group.  It’s a name I can’t say without picturing a seventy-year-old man with nose hair.  We could, of course, simply name a boy Alfie, but neither Barry nor I like the idea of using a nickname as a name.  No matter how much we use a nickname in day-to-day life, we want something a bit more traditional for the official documents.

However.  They are both perfectly good names, and we had run low enough on other possibilities that we were not in a position to be too fussy over details.  So, we have opted for Alfred William for the name that goes on the birth certificate and Alfie for what he gets called from the start.  And I find the whole idea has rather grown on me.  There is something about calling your children names you never originally thought you’d end up choosing that somehow seems rather appropriate for the whole experience of parenthood.


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