(First Published on The Motherload Blogzine, 31st August 2019)
My name is Lisa. I was perfectly happy about that until I opened a Drama School in my early 30’s and every fourth mother enrolling their child was called Lisa too.
It was then I realised that my name gave away my age. Lisa is the 1900’s version of Ethel, the 1950’s Barbara. If you are called Lisa, you are now very likely to be between the age of 45 and 55.
This irks me. I don’t want to become out-moded just because of my moniker (a name which would put your birth at around the 2nd series of Friends), so when we had children, one of our criteria was to find names for our daughters which didn’t immediately date them.
Our youngest, Isla, reminds us regularly how spectacularly we failed. I didn’t know a single Isla when she was born and, admittedly, at 11, she’s one of the oldest of the cohort, but by 2010 it was one of the most popular girl’s names.
On the bright side, names only become popular because they’re nice, right? Wrong. According to Isla, hers is the most ridiculous name ever inflicted on a child. Nobody can say it, she moans, and nobody can spell it.
People pronounce it ‘Izla’ and it makes her seethe. When she was seven she decided she’d had enough and would only answer to ‘Bob’.
‘You know where you are with Bob’, she told us, ‘Why didn’t you just call me Bob?’
Why didn’t we? Two people, completely unqualified for parenting, were not only given the responsibility of keeping actuals humans alive, they had to put a life-long title on them too. The pressure!
Having mucked up my own efforts, I posed the question on The Motherload forum: What factors did you consider when naming your baby, and did it go wrong?
Thankfully, the vast majority of offspring were reported as being happy with their names (way to make me feel bad, folks) and it was fascinating to hear the methods of name selection.
The most popular way of choosing middle names by far was family members.
As an adoptee, I’ve had a few names over the years, a birth name, the name on my adoption certificate and my married name, so I suspect I’m less sentimental about denominations which run in families than most.
But I melted when reading of all the generations being remembered and honoured by the continuation of the names. It must be heart-warming and grounding for a child to have that kind of loving provenance attached to them.
It was also notable that lots of children were named after ex’s or relatives of ex’s, which is a regrettable but unavoidable by-product of the child-bearing process. Let’s not dwell on that.
Like us, lots of people wanted to bestow names which could carry them through all their ages. I think some names are cute for babies but would seem incongruous on a person with crows feet.
Call me aspirational, but I also wanted something that could follow, ‘Our Prime Minister…’
Our surname is Timoney, which prohibited names of several syllables. I love the name Liberty but couldn’t inflict something so consonant heavy on a creature that couldn’t yet speak.
I checked to see if any preferred names meant something rude in another language. Pippa, for example, means hand job in Swedish (every day’s a school day), and we Brits couldn’t possibly call our innocent new-born Randy, could we?
Some people pointed out that, as bi-lingual families, they needed a name which worked in both languages. Double the headache!
Many MOLOs, myself included, are, or were, teachers, and various names have been poisoned for us by unpleasant children we’ve come across.
Nobody wants to look at their precious baby and be reminded of a kid who picked his nose and ate it whilst standing at your desk.
A name is so fundamental and defining, and I think it tells you something about the person, whether you want it to or not.
When I had the task of choosing a name. I didn’t want to give the child the pressure of living up to what I perceived as a grand label.
If someone is called Octavius, I catch myself making ridiculous judgements, presuming they come from a family who eats quinoa for dinner and holidays in Cap Ferrat.
Where you are in the country is relevant too. I live in the South East and often people pronounce their ‘th’s as ‘’f’s. I have met two women who’ve named their sons Nathan but pronounce it with an ‘f’.
Call me a Drama Queen, but I tried potential names out in several accents (especially my native Yorkshire) to see how they might sound on different tongues.
It’s also worth considering if it’s fair of us to put children in the position of being different? Who wants to be a Tiberius in a class full of Toms?
I know that different is good. I didn’t know that when I was seven.
Alternatively, should we worry about what anyone else thinks? Many people said they never disclose the name before the ink is dry on the birth certificate to avoid others’ opinions clouding the decision.
Our kid, our choice of name, right? Other people’s preconceptions should be their problems, not ours (My mother’s reaction when I mooted Jonah as an option is ringing in my ears as I type).
What I hadn’t considered was that my own child might hate the name we had so meticulously chosen. I feel a surprising amount of guilt about this. Why hadn’t I known that a silent letter would cause a lifetime of irritation?
How had I been careless enough to select a name which aged her as accurately as the rings in a tree trunk?
Isla goes to a multi-cultural school and has friends with names which sound new and unfamiliar to me. She rightly considers them to be perfectly fine names, so why does she give me such a hard time about her own? Are the other children doing the same to their mothers? Probably.
Because one thing I’ve learned in my 15 years of parenting is that it’s very rare we get anything right, so why should selecting their name be any different?
Like you, I tried my best. That’s all I’ve got.
One day I’ll tell her about the pregnant teenager my friend taught who planned to call her baby ‘Labia’ because it sounded nice. Maybe then Isla won’t seem so bad after all.
Brilliant. My son, Oscar was one of 3 Oscars in his reception class. (I though it was soooo original). And at his secondary school, his white friends’ Dads are all called Simon. So many Simons. Simon places you smack bang in your 50’s. How can you know? The zeitgeist seeps in, collective consciousness…whatever you want to call it.
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I have a stupidly popular 1960s name too…..my daughter is named after an actress from my favorite childhood movie. She seems happy with the name
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People associate their own generation or adults they know when referencing an “unpopular name,” that is one of the biggest mistakes people who want an unusual name do. My tip is to always refer to the popularity charts in every English-speaking country for the previous years.
That said, I think Isla is a pretty name. Hopefully your daughter will grow to love it.
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Thank you Sebastiane. I hope so too.