How I Named My Babies: River Charles & Vivienne Pearl
Designer and illustrator Benjamin Seidler and his husband, Coach creative director Stuart Vevers, welcomed twins named Sylvie Vivienne and River Charles in June. The mission for this creative couple: to give their babies the best twin names they could find.
Here, we talk to Benjamin about how he and Stuart named their babies.
Editor’s note: When it came time to register the births, Benjamin and Stuart decided to call their daughter Vivienne Pearl after all.
How long did it take you to decide on a name?
I did research for about two years, from when we started the journey of creating a family. I felt the process of researching names, mostly on Nameberry, helped me visualize and project positivity as we went through the often-challenging process and its many setbacks. I just kept a running list on my phone and added to it if I ever thought of or came across a name I liked – one list for boys and one for girls. When the twins were actually born, we declared River’s name within seconds of his birth. For Sylvie, we waited until she was two days old as we couldn’t decide.
When did you know you found “The Name?”
For River, both my husband and I just naturally agreed on it. There were no questions about it as we just both loved it. This was probably as soon as River was conceived. For Sylvie, we ended up flipping a coin after asking her godmothers to vote between four or five names. Two names tied for the most votes, Ruby and Sylvie, and Sylvie won the coin toss. At that point, fate reinforced the fact that we loved Sylvie. My husband actually got nervous that Ruby was going to win the coin toss, which was the ultimate sign.
River and Sylvie are connected to us. My husband and I have almost always lived in cities with rivers – the Thames, the Tiber, the Eden, the Seine, the Hudson – and fate feels like they all led us to this most important River. And Sylvie means forest, and our home in the UK is in the middle of a forest, where we had our wedding reception.
How many names did you take into the delivery room?
About six to ten for Sylvie and only the one for River. Our babies were born almost five weeks early, so we were expecting them in July. My name choices had been very tied to when they were born: they were going to be Cancerians born in July. As Cancer is a water sign, River made perfect sense. And we were going to call Sylvie Ruby after the birthstone of July. Although we hung onto Ruby until the last minute, it felt wrong to call her that if the universe gave her to us in June. That was an early lesson in learning to let go of expectations. We hung out with Sylvie for a couple of days in the NICU to get to know her, did the coin toss, and then decided Sylvie was the right name.
What strategies did you use to narrow down your name choices?
If either my husband or I had an extremely negative opinion on a name, it was out. As we have quite different tastes when it comes to names, that narrowed it down a lot. My list ran over 100 names long, but about ten names for each gender just always shone through.
I also think the process of selecting names with meaning helps narrow down. I love the name Violet but that’s the birth flower of February, so didn’t feel relevant to us. I have struggled with OCD my whole life, which has been helpful for me professionally but when it came to naming it made traditions like birthstone names feel like hard rules that I could not transgress lest they brought bad luck. I also narrowed down names that were too ‘hard’ sounding to flow with our rather long surname Seidler-Vevers. I love the name Tristan but those hard T’s jarred with the softness of Seidler-Vevers. Only considering names with both flow and meaning definitely limited the choices.
Whose baby name opinions influenced you the most?
We didn’t tell anyone about River and Ruby – our original names – except for my mother and sister. They were very positive about them. But over the months I floated other names on my list with friends and Sylvie was consistently popular with my female friends, they would always pick it out of a list. That was a huge sign, to choose a name that women seem to like for a woman.
Are your babies named after anyone?
Yes, in both their middle names. River Charles is after my uncle Anthony Charles, who died of COVID in London in April. He was my father’s twin and he texted me to suggest I name one of my children after him. I had been struggling to find a middle name for River that was short and right, so it was a sad kind of fate. Vivienne is a mix of both our mothers’ names, Aviva and Barbara Anne. It also is the name of the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend, so that is how Sylvie gets her lucky Cancerian water sign connection in her name.
What name did you hate to let go of?
For me, it was Pearl. When Ruby didn’t make sense anymore, Pearl seemed like the obvious place to go. I design jewelry and loved the idea of using a gem name. But my husband had a very strong objection to River and Pearl as a twinset, even though he loved Pearl as a name on its own. In the NICU, trying to figure out a name between all the feeding tubes and monitors, I started to tire of word names, they just suddenly felt so loaded. I then tried to convince my husband to let me give Sylvie two middle names, one of which would have been Pearl, but he didn’t want her to have more than one middle name as she has such great initials (SVSV) and her surname was already so long. We had to keep Vivienne, not only because it’s beautiful and has the water connection, but because it’s a connection to our mothers, who couldn’t be with us in person because of COVID.
I’ve read people’s biggest naming regret is not connecting names to their family members, and I’m so glad both River and Sylvie have these connections to their grandparents in their middle names. For my husband it was Rose, a name that hadn’t been on my list. I loved that it was the birth flower of June and the English rose connection (we’re British), but I struggled with the fact that there had been a Rose Seidler in history (a famous building in Australia is named after her), and the name felt irrevocably haunted to me. I couldn’t give Sylvie a name already used by someone to whom we have no close connection.
What would your younger self have liked to name the baby?
I really loved the name Velvet for a long time – I love the Gothic Romance of the fabric but also the link to the literary equestrian National Velvet, played by Elizabeth Taylor in the film. I also love the name Fawn (in fact I think Nameberry should revise its entry for Fawn – I think it’s a name that’s full of promise and fresh beginnings). Both felt more appropriate for a Fall or Spring baby.
Coral was also a name I always loved, but it didn’t flow well with our last names. None of these issues would have come up when I was younger. Sylvie and River would definitely have been on my list. When I was in design school, I remember drawing women in my designs and calling them Sylvie and Juniper. I also always loved the name Penelope, which was on our long list.
Editor’s note: the entry for Fawn has been updated.
What would your baby be named if it was totally up to you? If it was up to your partner?
Once she was born, I really pushed the name Sylvie. It was always on my list but once Ruby was off the table it was dominating my mind, as if a force of fate was imploring me to choose that name. And as much as I love Pearl, I know if I had chosen it, I would have missed both the flow of Sylvie Seidler-Vevers and the elegance of it as a name. For my husband, it would have been Rose. For River, I think we would have both chosen River ultimately, but I also loved Sterling, Sylvan, and Colt. I think I might have also gone for Delphine or Vanessa.
How do you feel about your own name and how did that influence your choice?
I’ve always liked my name, but in the past few years, as Benjamin has become so popular for baby boys, it’s definitely felt different. Growing up it was common but not too common. I got to be Ben to my family and Benjamin in a professional setting, and I loved the boundaries that created. In Italy, France, Germany, and Switzerland, where I grew up, Benjamin was more antique than vintage, familiar but unused, and I think I was looking for that sensibility as it worked well for me.
Also, I loved having a middle name – Ohad. My mother is Israeli, and she chose a modern Hebrew name, which is actually an Old Testament name. We gave both Sylvie and River Hebrew names. We didn’t do this in any official capacity, they’re not written down anywhere. But it’s part of their heritage. River is Nahar (which means River) and Sylvie is Odem (which means Ruby, so I did get to keep that name in some form after all!).
Was it important to choose a name that ‘matched’ your baby’s older siblings’ — or future siblings’ — names?
I think I have a strong romantic taste when it comes to names. Except for some being more French, all the names I like and will like seem like they would work well together. River and Sylvie are soft nature names that I hope go beautifully together.
Was it easier to come up with girl or boy names?
Boys for sure. With girls’ names I felt more spoilt for choice.
Did you have different requirements for first and middle names?
Yes, the middle name had to have more of an emotional meaning. As long as it didn’t interrupt the flow of the full name, I was less bothered about whether it was one of my favorite names. I do love both Charles and Vivienne but they’re far too classic for me to have considered as first names. However, I love the option that if Sylvie and River want more classical names when they grow up, they’ll have them ready to use.
How important a consideration was the flow of the first, middle, and last names?
Super important, along with initials. It is so special that Sylvie‘s initials are SVSV, which are double the initials of my husband (SV). With a long surname like Seidler-Vevers, I wanted to consider soft names that flowed into the last name, not ones that worked against it.
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
I would say that Sylvie‘s name fits in with names in my social circle more than River. Henry, Adeline, Otis, Clara, Lara, Nell, Harrison, Poppy, Marlowe, Grace, Scarlett, Olive, Arthur, William, India, Oscar, Grey, Verity – these more traditional British or vintage names that my friends have used sit better with Sylvie than River. River has a more late 20th century vibe, but I like that too and think that the soft romantic sound and its pairing with Charles connects it to the current trends loosely. Sylvie is also more connected to trendy non-English names in my social circle like Viola, Zeno, Lua, Sienna, Agata, Roma, Mia, Maya, Olivia, and Ylva, which River is not.
What was your biggest fear related to baby names?
That I didn’t give our children the best twin names. This process has made me realize how there are so many lovely names, and you’re always going to miss one once you choose another.
I also fear being misunderstood, but this process has emphasized how you have to have courage in your convictions and decisions. As I really dislike nickname-names, I was concerned people might think Sylvie is short for Sylvia (which is also a name I love, but it’s not Sylvie‘s name). So far that hasn’t been the case much, people understand they’re different names like Sophie and Sophia.
Which partner was pickier about baby names?
My husband, I think I had a 10% success rate with my suggestions.
Did you experience ‘name regret’ at any point?
I love both River and Sylvie‘s names but I definitely reached out to girlfriends I’m close to for reassurance after I named Sylvie. Like I said, women really seem to love Sylvie‘s name so their confidence in the name choice was encouraging. I do think of Pearl as the one that got away, but like I said it lacks a lot of what Sylvie has going for it, and I know that if I had chosen it, I would have bigger regrets about not picking Sylvie. None of my friends seemed to prefer Pearl to Sylvie. I really tried to get Pearl as a second middle name, but respect that my husband wanted to keep Sylvie‘s SVSV initials intact. There are no regrets with River´s name.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
How names can haunt you and it takes time to decipher your true feelings about a name. A name is like a house, and you don’t really know it until you’ve visited every room. It’s a process that totally grips you and it takes a while to get over even once the names are given.
What advice would you give someone just starting the baby name process?
I would not begin before you’re three months pregnant. Six months is plenty of time to decide how you really feel about names and do not commit to any of them until you’ve met the baby. Always give a middle name as it’s a lovely extra. My friend Mim made a great point, which is to consider how your name choice looks written down. With emails and texts people ‘see’ our names so much more than they used to, and I think the repeated R’s, V’s and S’s of Sylvie Seidler-Vevers and River Seidler-Vevers are very satisfying visually. And finally, connect one of the names to your history/family/ancestry. Not doing that is people’s biggest regret, and if I hadn’t done that I’d be regretting it a lot.
Thank you so much, Benjamin!