How I Named My Baby: Cora Birch
Sarah and Adam are teachers living in New Jersey with their two daughters, Emerson Jane and Cora Birch.
Cora joined the family last September, and we spoke with Sarah about the process of choosing her name.
Tell me how you chose Cora’s name!
My husband and I are both teachers — my husband teaches high school and I teach middle school. It was difficult choosing names for both of our daughters because we’ve met so many kids. We like familiar names that aren’t totally made up, but ones that haven’t been heard a million times. I’ve always had Olivia on my baby name list, but I taught probably 75 Olivias already.
We found Cora when our older daughter, Emerson, had a little bear named Cora that sang a song about her name. I just loved the name, so I added it to my list.
When we found out we were expecting the second time, the name fell into place. We first decided on the middle name Birch, and then discovered that Cora, from my list, fit well with it. My mother-in-law’s maiden name is Berch. We changed the spelling, figuring this way the baby wouldn’t have to explain it all the time. It’s Birch like the tree but still a nod to my mother-in-law.
At what point in your pregnancy did you decide on Cora Birch?
Early! By eleven or twelve weeks we knew our girl name was Cora Birch. We never find out the sex of our babies, so we go to the hospital with a boy name and a girl name. For both pregnancies, we settled on our girl name in the first trimester but were talking about our boy name on the way to the hospital. It was never set in stone.
What were the boy names you were throwing around?
For our first pregnancy, a boy would have been named William or Theodore, called Will or Teddy. My father-in-law is ill, so this time we would have done John as the first name after him, with Sullivan as the middle, which is my grandmother’s maiden name. We’re keeping John Sullivan as our boy name if we go for a third, although I’m not sure we will.
We already have the name for a girl — Hazel Ruth! Girl names are so much easier for me. I love Emerson, Cora, and Hazel as a sibling set.
What strategies did you use to narrow down your choices?
I write down the names and initials and think about any weird nicknames that might come up. I actually changed my handwriting a little bit when we named Emerson because I didn’t like the way my capital E looked.
I also say them out loud a lot — we even yelled them a few times because you know you’re going to yell your kid’s name at some point! I always had the name Clara on my list, but then I thought about how funny Sarah and Clara are with the rhyming. I didn’t love that when I said it out loud, so it came off my list at that point.
I don’t want to have fully made-up names or lots of erroneous Ys thrown in there — that’s not our style — but also not something that everyone else has. Sarah and Adam were both super popular in the late ‘80s. My college roommate was Sarah, there were ten Sarahs in my graduating high school class. My husband’s two best friends are both named Adam. We didn’t want our kid to have to be Olivia S. Hopefully she’ll be the only Cora — at the very most one of two or three.
Were they any names you hated to let go of?
I really love the name Olive, but Adam vetoed it right away. It’s still on my list, but obviously I have to respect his wishes too. Now that we have an Emmy and a Cora, I don’t know that Olive is my favorite as a third. I think Hazel is a better fit. But Olive was the one that hurt to take out of contention.
Adam loves Cecilia. I think it’s a great name and I love the nickname Cece, but we have a heavy last name. I can just picture a little kid not being able to get through the whole combo.
What would your younger self have liked to name a baby?
I’m Sarah Jane, and I’ve always liked simple names. I think old-fashioned names are sweet — our dog is named Louise because I like an old-lady kind of name. I think I would have done something a little more pop-culture-y when I was younger. I remember really fighting to name our dog Cher as a kid, after the protagonist in Clueless. I got overwritten by my parents.
I had my kids in my 30s, and now I prefer more classic names. A lot of my younger cousins and their friends who are having kids in their 20s are using trendier names — surname names, names with Xs. Those names that are a little bit different — the kind that make my grandma say, “What is happening?”
What would you have named Cora if it was totally up to you?
Cora Birch was the name that I brought to Adam, and he was like “yes, done, easy.” So I think she still would have been Cora Birch! Even though her middle name is a nod to my mother-in-law, she and I are really close, so that still feels really good for me. I love the name — it’s sweet and nature-y and slightly different without being out there.
How do you feel about your own name and how do you think that influenced your choice of names?
I really like my name. I didn’t always, because I was one of a million and it felt really plain. But now I appreciate that it’s simple and everyone knows it. I do get the spelling question just because there are two ways to spell Sarah.
That was my only real beef with Sarah growing up is that I didn’t have a nickname, although now it doesn’t bother me at all. We thought about that a lot when we named Emerson, who we call Emmy. But funnily enough, I didn’t do that for Cora, because there’s no traditional nickname.
Was it important to you that Cora’s name “matched” Emerson’s?
Definitely. That was a part of me writing down names and saying them out loud. I found that almost every name that I liked went with Emerson. We were never going to use a completely matching name like Madison, but our shortlist was Claire, Cora, Hazel, and Olive. I thought all of those worked with Emerson after I wrote them down and said them out loud.
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
We have a lot of Henrys. Mila has been really popular in our friend groups, and Layla as well.
Do you have any fears related to baby names?
I worry about that tampon brand Cora! What if it takes off? I don’t want her name to be connected to anything embarrassing in the future. I’m sure the brand is never going to be Tampax-level-popular though.
And it’s not really a fear, but I would hate to have her be one of ten Coras in her class. But there’s really nothing you can do to control that. If a royal or celebrity named their baby Cora next week and it shot up, that would be disappointing. It’s not super low on the charts now, anyway.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
How easy it was for girls! We always had just one or two boy names, but it was never finalized. We always said if we had a boy we would just wait and see him. Naming has always felt pretty easy for us. Adam and I are on the same page and have a similar style, with one or two vetoes. I was really worried about it when we were first pregnant with Emerson.
What advice would you give to someone just starting the baby name process?
I really like just looking at lists of names, whether it’s on a website or even just opening up your old yearbook. I’m the yearbook advisor at my middle school, and that always really helped because I would get a roster of 1300 names, and as I was working through it, I’d note if a name was really cool. It at least helped me hone my style to know that I liked classic names that are a little bit off the beaten path.
And then just write it down a ton. I’m a big doodler — I doodled my kids’ names a lot when I was in meetings or even just on hold with someone. I would also doodle all our names together. That really helped me see which names clicked into place.
Thank you so much, Sarah!