From Bertha to Angina: One Mom’s (Mostly Frustrated) Search for the Right Name

Family Baby Names

We found Stephany Aulenback’s wonderful blog Crooked House when she wrote about nameberry, and now we’re fans.  Here, Stephany‘s take on looking for a name for her baby girl, due in June, and finding that nothing, old or new, feels quite right.

It was around Christmas time when we started talking about the new baby with Luke so maybe it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he suggested we call it Baby Jesus. His second suggestion, Pooko, was in my opinion, an improvement, if only very marginally.

The other day his preschool teacher asked him what we were going to name the new baby.

He said, “I don’t know. We have to make a list.”

“Oh, you should put the name ‘Libby‘ on the list. I really like that name.”

“I can’t,” he said.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because ‘Rosie‘s’ already on my list. I like the name ‘Rosie.'”

Clearly he’s not quite clear yet on the concept of “list.” I know where he came up with Rosie –when he thinks of the name, he pictures a sweet little girl with curly brown hair who stars on a children’s travel television show. I picture Rosie O’Donnell. I like Rosie O’Donnell. I just don’t want to picture her face when I’m cuddling my newborn.

David‘s mother died a month before Luke‘s birth. At the time, we already knew we were having a boy. And she’d indicated, without actually coming right out and saying so, that while she liked our choice for a first name, she wasn’t thrilled about our choice of Johann for the second. We’d chosen it because the first Aulenback, a common surname in our region of Nova Scotia, to settle here was a Johann. After she died suddenly a month before his birth, we decided not to use it. (The lesson in that? If you don’t want your loved ones to do something, die.)

Now that we’re having a girl and so can do more to honor David’s mother this time, it has crossed both our minds that we should try to somehow work her name into the new baby’s. The trouble is that while her name, Linda, is pretty and has a lovely meaning, it does not yet seem quite ready for a revival. According to Nameberry it was the most popular name for girls in 1950 and we immediately picture someone, well, round about the age of David‘s mother when we say it.

What about her middle name? Well… it was Bertha. While I was surprised when Ruby, a name of a similar vintage, made its comeback, Ruby has grown on me in a way that Bertha just hasn’t. (We actually tried to name our cat, Theo, Ruby until the vet informed us we’d have to go with Rudy.) I don’t see Bertha developing a cachet anytime soon. No, I see Bertha wearing orthopedic tennis shoes with a plus-size skirt. No offense to any Manolo-and-mini-skirt wearing Berthas out there — and I’m sure they exist. Although, come to think of it, I don’t like to think of my baby wearing Manolos or mini skirts either.

David and I were talking about — over, around — this dilemma late last night when all sensible people were either asleep or ordering grills from the Home Shopping Network. We really, really want to honour David’s mother. But we don’t much like the name, not for someone born in 2009. My brilliant solution? Why not give the new baby the middle name “Mom”? That way, we’d be paying homage to my own mother, too. (My own mother’s name just happens to be Ruth Alvira.)

The other problem I have with choosing a name is that I’m a bit of a misanthrope. I know people steer clear of the names of exes, say, or of children who picked on them back in elementary school, or of mean bosses, or, I don’t know, psychopathic killers. But I have trouble with any name that has actually already belonged to a human being. Even if I really like you — even if I really love you — I’m unlikely to want to burden my fresh new baby with your used kleenex of a name. And yet, however much I like to think that I’m a creative person (after all, I’m creating a whole new person here right in my midsection), I’m not really a fan of “creative” names. Here’s the kind of list I come up with when I try to get creative.

Words That Would Make Nice Names for Babies, If It Weren’t For Their Unsuitable Meanings





Stephany Aulenback lives in Nova Scotia with her husband David and her three-year-old son Luke, whose baby sister will be born in June. Stephany blogs at Crooked House.

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