Hello, my name is ...

 Me and "S"....er...."Z"

After months of agonizing over it, my sister just changed her daughter’s name.  The little girl will be 1 in a month.

While such a decision may seem daring, if not a little wacky, to a casual observer, those who know my sister probably barely batted an eye at the announcement. This is because she’s always been the audacious, march-to-the-beat-of-her-drum type, so this is just the most recent in a decades-long string of bold moves pulled off with confidence after exhaustive contemplation and extensive research.

The whole thing has made me think about the act of naming babies. When does a string of letters attached to us at birth truly become the word to which our identity is tied? When, along the course of our lives, do we take ownership of our own names? When does our name become a part of who we are, not merely a word that pleased our parents or came to us under some obligation of family tradition or cultural or religious demands?

I know I was named Robyn at birth, but when did my personality, my very being become synonymous with the word “Robyn” to myself and to my family and friends?

I’ve had people look at my son and say, “Oh, he defintely looks like an Evan,” which really makes about as much sense as saying “He definitely looks like a Steve” or “He definitely looks like a Rodney,” because really, there are a million Evans out there who I suppose all “look like an Evan.” What do any of those words truly “look like,” anyway?

Both of my son’s names, Kostyn Orrie and Evan Thomas (Kostyn, Orrie and Thomas are all family names), came to us long before their births. Both first names were ones we personally liked, but more than that, they were names that were laid on our hearts as the “right” names for each child the very days we found out we were having a boy.

Even so, when we had our second son I had some regret over his name -- not because I didn’t think Evan was right for him, but because I loved the name Orrie and wished I’d known I was to have two boys, as I probably would have “saved” that name for my second child. (Hindsight is 20/20.) For the first several months of Evan’s life I would look at him once in awhile and think, Orrie.  He could have been an Orrie. Was he an Orrie? He seemed to fit that name as much as he fit Evan. Should we have gone with Kostyn Thomas, thereby leaving Orrie open? Would it be weird to have a Kostyn Orrie and an Orrie Thomas? Were these the whims and imaginings of a crazy, sleep-deprived woman??

Eventually any wishful thinking I had about Orrie disappeared, as Evan grew more strongly and fittingly into his given name. But I can feel my sister’s plight and empathize with her predicament.

My sister and her husband didn’t pick a name for their child before her birth. Like many parents, they had a short list of possibilities — a few boy names, a few girl names — and they waited to see which name struck them as being “right” after their baby was born. Except none of them leapt off the list and declared itself her name, the way their son’s name had done upon his birth four years earlier.

Pressured to sign a birth certificate before leaving the birthing center a day after their daughter was born, they begrudgingly picked a name off their list and hoped it was the right choice. Instantly, my sister regretted her decision — not necessarily the name, but the decision to pick a name rather than wait until the right name revealed itself.

So for the next nine months or so she fretted over the name she’d chosen, S*. It just never seemed to fit her, my sister said. People pronounced it differently, and she struggled with figuring out how it should be pronounced. Without meaning to, they rarely called her by her given name, instead resorting to nicknames and pet names.

Sometime this spring, as S’s personality began to emerge, so did her name: Z.  It became increasingly clear to both my sister and her husband that Z was the right name. (Though he’d tell you he liked the name Z best from very early on.)

“She’s just going to be a really strong, intense person,” my sister said, “and Z suits her.”

Behind closed doors they began to call her Z, to see if it fit. They explained to her big brother that when he was born he smiled at them in such a way that said, without a doubt, “My name is T!” But his sister had kept her name a secret, and was just now revealing it to them. He accepted this logic without so much as a cocked eyebrow, and was somehow able to compartmentalize the whole thing, calling his sister Z at home and S when out among friends. After a couple months they were absolutely sure:  They made S part of her middle name and made Z her first name for good.

And they began to reintroduce their almost-1-year-old daughter to friends and family.

My sister knows the decision makes her look a little crazy. (OK, maybe more than a little.) Ultimately, though, she doesn’t care. She is finally able to put the burden of having picked the “wrong” name behind her. She also knows when Z grows up and hears the whole story, she might identify with S and want to change it back, and that will be OK too. Because your name is a very personal thing, and it should sound right, feel right, and be spelled right, for you. I can’t imagine being “Robin-with-an-i,” for instance; that’s simply not me. That ‘y’ in my name is as much a part of who I am as the double-z’s in my middle name (Suzzane, thanks to a spelling error by dear ol' Dad on my birth certificate, which I love).

So S is now Z, and my 3-year-old is looking at me a little funny these days when he points to a picture of his cousin and says “There’s S!” and I correct him and say “No, Z!” He probably thinks his mommy’s a little nuts, and that’s ok; it’s only a matter of time before he realizes I’m not the crazy one in the family. ;)

How did you know the name you picked for your child was right?  Have you ever known a parent who had “namer’s remorse”?

*My sis prefers for her kids’ real names to be kept offline.


Anonymous said...

My newborn - Charlie, aka Jonathan Charles - is 4 days old. Sometimes I look at him and think, "Should we be calling him Jonathan?" or "Max", the other name that was on the shortlist. It is confusing. Right now, I just look at him and feel like I'm holding my older son, Liam. And yeah, sometimes I just feel c-razy!


Lyn said...

Since I was named after my mother (ner name is Marilyn and my name is Lyn Mari) I felt a certain amount of pressure to follow with the tradition and over the years tried to think of something that would translate well. I think I may even have announced to family that "Marilyn" or any of its creative derivatives, was off limits. However, after my mother died, my thougts changed a little. I liked the idea of naming her after myself and her grandmother, but for some reason it didn't sit right. Eventually I realized that I wanted to keep that special bond between my mother and I just for the two of us. So, when I got pregnant and we started tossing around names, we stumbled on Leah (who's godfather's name is Lee)we both fell in love. When Ryan suggested Rose for the middle name, the universe agreed and I was content since roses were my mother's favorite flower...Leah got to be an idividual and I got to honor my mother, too. I've always liked the name and it has always seemed to suit her...although I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if she changes it herself someday...that would be a very "Leah-ey" thing to do!

Dee said...

prayers sent for baby Z...tonight, love ya, aunt Dee