Baby Names Stories: How Omnimom made her four choices
In 1642, Oliver Cromwell led a contingent of parliamentarians against King Charles I, defeating him in what became known as the English Civil War and giving rise to the only occasion in modern British history where the monarchy has not held power. Three and a half centuries later, he became my husband’s hero for it, my husband who is a constitutional lawyer and a committed republican (small ‘r’). In the years before the arrival of our first child, we lived in Oxford, both of us affiliated with the University there. Amidst its hallowed halls and Gothic spires, people would talk in hushed tones about their ‘periods’ of expertise. My husband’s period was the seventeenth century. Cromwell was his guy.
Unsurprisingly, Oliver was always his first choice for a boy’s name. It became mine too. We said we weren’t having children, though, so we bestowed instead the name Cromwell upon our future dog, a brown and white beagle. Things changed and we didn’t get the dog. But we did welcome a son who was, of course, called Oliver. My husband wanted it because it was traditional and historically grounded. I wanted it because it was sparky and unconventional. It is both of those things, depending on where you come from: this is what has made the Venn diagram effect of our name selection so successful. The year Oliver was born it was the fifth most popular baby name in the UK. In the US, it hadn’t even broken the top 100.
In 2005, Nicole Krauss published a book called The History of Love, which quickly became one of my all time most adored pieces of writing. My husband read it also and, even more astonishingly, he liked it: one of the 4.5 novels in the world the merit of which we have ever agreed on. The book focuses on a cracker of a character – old, Jewish, lonely – a man waiting for the Grim Reaper to claim him. It begins: ‘When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF S**T.’
We both seized upon the name instantly, not for a death but for a birth. During the middle ten or so weeks of my pregnancy, a time when I must have been flushed with feel-good hormones and delusions of grandeur, I was sure that we would call this child Leopold, the full, hefty name of Krauss’s protagonist. By the end, though, we simmered down, settling happily on Leo itself: short, strong, charismatic. Just like our son. Number 43 in the UK that year; didn’t make the top 100 in the US.
In 1994, the TV show Friends took America by storm. One of the six 20-somethings the program revolved around was an uber-quirky blonde named Phoebe, whom our Phoebe was named in spite of, not after. When we were expecting baby number one – and baby number two, for that matter – Phoebe was a chronic runner-up to Zoe. Then we had two boys. Then life took over and we got close to a lovely couple who had the gall to name their own kid Zoe well before we knew them. When I became pregnant again, Phoebe moved into pole position.
The first two times we were contemplating it – in 2005 and 2007 – the Friends reference was still strong. By 2011, it was much less so. Thank goodness for that because Phoebe is too sophisticated and classically poignant a name to be forever shackled with an association to Lisa Kudrow’s bizarre alter ego. It is Greek in origin, which is my period, and it means ‘radiant’ or ‘shining’. The spelling makes it sultry almost. It is related to Phoebus Apollo, one of my favorite members of the Greek pantheon, the god of light, of music and of so much else that is beautiful. Apollo is a twin (no, we didn’t consider Artemis), as is the Phoebe from Friends (no, we never considered Ursula), as is our Phoebe. Twin names, even more so than sibling names, cannot be chosen in isolation. Number 34 in the UK; outside of the top 100 in the US.
Which brings us to Jasper. A wasp, a gemstone, the name of the don who taught me Homer inside the cobblestones of Balliol College – a scene which perhaps best captures its connotation. To the British ear, Jasper sounds posh, a bit pretentious, fluffy even. The word for him might be ‘toff’. I’m pretty sure my in-laws winced when we told them. To the American ear, however, it is fun and fresh.
This was the hardest moniker for us to agree on, the third boy, the best names already gone. In another life, Jasper would have been Eli or maybe Ezra, but he is one of a set and, paired with Phoebe, we wanted a less prevalent vowel sound. Jasper was the only one of the four names that was really my choice alone. My husband conceded it to me, probably because by the fourth round he was just too worn down to put up a fight. In 2011, Jasper didn’t make either the UK or US top 100.
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on June 12th, 2013 at 12:17 am
Very nice choises.
I don’t like Oliver – for (even to me) unknown reasons, but the other 3 names are lovely and amongst my favorites.
Leo & Phoebe makes me think of the tv show Charmed. Both lovely characters. That Phoebe is, by the way, the third child.
on June 12th, 2013 at 6:52 am
Oh, please do start on their middle names! The firsts are so lovely, and well-matched.
on June 12th, 2013 at 8:13 am
Oh yes! Do start on the middle names!
All of the first names are lovely!
Jasper’s story makes me think of a story my sister told me about when she was sitting in a café in Oxford (she’s a Keble-ite) and overheard a woman telling Casper and Heidi to ‘eat their asparagus darlings’ – Heidi always seems to be quite popular with Americans but in the UK it feels a bit stuffy. We won’t go into Casper.
The main difference being that I adore Jasper and am not all too keen on Heidi.
on June 12th, 2013 at 10:31 am
I love this story! Brilliant!
on June 12th, 2013 at 12:58 pm
this says the Poster is “Anotherkate” testing to see if it posts as her or me…
on June 12th, 2013 at 1:00 pm
and that seemed to fix it.
I love your name choices!!! All some of my favorites. And Phoebe is definitely on our list. I love the “oe” parts. 🙂
If you don’t want to go into the middles… just list them for us. 😉
on June 12th, 2013 at 2:08 pm
The history of love!!! What a wonderful book, it took my breath away in many parts… Ahh the mention of it just made my day 🙂 wonderful names as well, all different and unique but a cohesive at the same time. Thanks for sharing!
on June 12th, 2013 at 3:27 pm
on June 12th, 2013 at 4:11 pm
I love Oliver, Leo, Phoebe and Jasper. All are on my list which is strange because I have never heard a sib-set were I like all the name or in fact all are on my list. It’s also weird that you have twins called Phoebe and Jasper because I have always thought they would make a wonderful sib or twin set.
on June 12th, 2013 at 4:15 pm
I have also just noticed that they all have an E in their names which is quite a nice connection that most people won’t notice.
on June 12th, 2013 at 9:57 pm
I love your sibset! Individually, I adore Phoebe and Jasper as names. Not quite as sold on Oliver and Leo. I think it’s because Oliver is very popular in Australia and Leo is a nickname name, which I don’t usually like. However, as a set, it’s charming. I’ll echo previous posters who asked for middle names! Yes, please!
on June 12th, 2013 at 10:41 pm
Good news! Lauren has promised to do a middle name blog!
on June 13th, 2013 at 1:25 am
Yea for middle names!!! 😀
on June 13th, 2013 at 3:08 am
Oliver, Leo, Phoebe, and Jasper are perfect!!!
on July 18th, 2013 at 5:58 am
I love the names as a set, but what I love even more is how your son has an Abbey Road shirt on!!!
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