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Family Names: Naming from the Heart

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Today’s guest blogger, Ilya Welfeld, describes her journey towards the perfect–and inevitable –name for her daughter.

Is it wrong to admit that I sometimes want another child just to name it?  That at times, that desire is so powerful as to supersede memories of chafed breasts, sleepless nausea and the exhausting reality of carefully raising a precious child?

The awe-inspiring and all creative opportunity to put a name to a life has seduced me like a secret lover – a passion you cannot acknowledge despite the obsessive hold it has upon your every thought.   After each child, I have wondered… will I ever name again?

When pregnant, I pour over books, bookmark websites, read messages boards, post and poll as I consider what to call each child.  I can’t resist the urge to utter new names, explore meanings and sounds from languages and family lore. The names of our children have all been inspired by a relative who has passed away. This, a Jewish tradition, not only adds beautiful meaning to the act of naming, but honestly helps narrow the focus. I can’t imagine having A-Z available to me.

When I became pregnant with our daughter, our third child, my naming obsession went into over-drive. My husband begrudgingly played a game night after night just before we closed our eyes. I would ask – “If you had to pick a name right now- what would it be?” Sometimes he managed a measure of enthusiasm – and names like “Jana” or “Samara” emerged. Other times, befuddled by my obsession, he would grunt “Brunhilda” and flip his head around to face the other wall while I lay frustrated that he didn’t share my passion for finding the perfect name.

But all the while, we knew there was one name to reckon with, a name that might make moot all ten thousand entries in baby name books.

My grandmother was a magical person, a warm, loving beacon to those around her.  We called her “Grandma” – a word that meant love and comfort, chicken soup, chocolate ice cream, ivory soap and freshly swept carpets.   But of course, we were not going to name a little girl “Grandma.”  My grandmother had a given name.  As a matter of fact, it was one of the most popular names of the century.  The previous century, that is…. Her name was Dorothy.

And there was the conundrum.  The name Dorothy was not even registering on many baby name sites. And when it did – it was always alongside persistent suggestions for more modern, more acceptable alternatives. We considered everything from Dawn to Dulcie but all felt like knock offs of the real deal.

Yet, for a name obsessed – how could I select the exact name of a predecessor?  What would the name say about us? Wouldn’t that show not only a bold lack of creative thinking but also disregard for the feelings of a child who would go through life reminding people of the Wizard of Oz, Golden Girls, Elmo’s fish or worse … a dinosaur?

It was my husband ultimately, in his loving wisdom, who asked whether I would regret not using the name Dorothy. It was he who said the name would be beautiful because it would always be a reminder of my grandmother who was special to him too. It would mean Gift of God. And it would be a name that would communicate love to our entire family.  And that it has.

We decided to go for it.  I would be lying if I said we didn’t then spend weeks considering nicknames.  It would be unfair if I didn’t fess up to the fact that even after she was born I tried to recall the birth certificate at the hospital, feeling pangs of Namer’s Remorse. I cried to my best friend, seven thousand miles away, second guessing the decision to name this tiny little creature …. Dorothy.

But I can also tell you that since she gave me her first smile, sprouted pigtails, a spunky attitude and a smile as bright as her namesake’s – I have never looked back.

My toddler has made “Dorothy” her own.  Her little friends call her “Darfy” in their adorable little voices.  Foreign-born teachers pronounce it “Darty” and my brother calls her “Dot.”  She thinks Elmo speaks directly to her and yes, she actually tells people her name is “D-O-R-O-T-H-Y … Dorothy the Dinosaur.”

And that is all OK. More than OK.  She loves her name. And I love her name. I love to hear it as much as I love to say it. I love that my husband offered it like the valuable gift it has become.  In her room hangs a favorite black and white photograph of my grandmother (shown above) and I know that no other name could have better suited our beloved little Dorothy.

Ilya Welfeld is a wife, mother, writer and communications professional in New Jersey.

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