How I Named My Baby: Griffin Leo
Speech therapist Lainie and her husband Jack, a lawyer, live in South Bend, Indiana with their son Griffin Leo, who they welcomed on May 29th, 2021.
Lainie told us, “I’ve been scrolling through Nameberry since I was a child, so naming our own baby was like my Super Bowl.” We knew we had to talk to her and hear about the process of naming Griffin.
Take me through Griffin’s name story!
It’s funny. I’ve been obsessed with names since I was little. My mom jokes that she knew about Nameberry when I was in middle and high school. I was always on Nameberry — I was curious about what the names of my friends meant and things like that.
I work with young kids — all under three, so as names get popular, I am on the forefront of the trends. I totally understand why popular names are popular — they’re nice names! — but I wanted to avoid something too popular. One thing that was important for me was that we chose a name where he wouldn’t have to be Griffin D. in his class.
We liked the idea of a name where you might know one other person with the name. With Griffin, that was true for me. I knew one person named Griffin growing up, my friend’s older brother. My husband liked that it was also a surname.
We had a couple of other names that we liked as well. I’d say our next runner-up would have been Ari. It’s really a cool name, but it also has this Old Testament-y kind of vibe. But I’m glad we didn’t end up deciding on that because three days before Griffin was born, Jack’s cousin had a baby girl named Ariella and they’re calling her Ari. Crisis averted!
How did you choose his middle name?
Griffin came to the forefront for us pretty easily, it was really the middle name that we ended up going back and forth on. My husband just loved the name Leo, but me being me, I was like, “I have a couple Leos on my caseload; it’s getting popular but it’s such a great name.” I thought it could be fresh as a middle name, so we were tossing that idea around.
And then, after a totally easy, uncomplicated pregnancy, I went into labor with him at 34 weeks. In true speech therapy fashion, my water broke at a home visit! Jack and I were sitting in triage and the OB said, “no, you didn’t pee your pants — that was amniotic fluid! Your water broke, so you’re here until you leave with a baby.” And then it was the whole conversation of with him being 34 weeks, the last thing to develop is the lungs. They were going to give me as many steroid shots as they could get in before the birth to really help those lungs. We just kept hoping he’d come out breathing. And that just solidified Leo. He needed a lion name! We wanted him to come out and roar.
I went into labor with him that night and he was born early the next morning. And he did come out roaring.
Did you have other middle names you were thinking about?
Yeah, we were throwing around Joseph as well. Joseph is my husband’s older brother’s name, as well as his grandfather’s name. Jack’s grandparents are turning 95 this year — they have nine kids of their own, and I can’t even count how many grandkids they have. Griffin is the 25th great-grandchild and the first male great-grandchild with their last name. So we thought about using Joseph in the middle to honor him, and we live in St. Joseph county, so some of those things just fit as well.
I have an honor name, which I love — I’m named after my grandma. Jack has an honor middle name, after his dad. And we thought, “You know what? Both of our dads are Michael, there are so many Josephs in the family — let’s introduce a new name so that if Griffin has kids of his own, there’s a new honor name in the mix.”
Did you ask anyone for advice or talk about baby names with anyone else?
We were somewhat secretive about what we were eventually going to pick, but we shared some of the names we were interested in with our siblings and my mom. We didn’t want to tell anybody the final name because we wanted to reserve the right to change our minds if he came out and didn’t look like a Griffin.
We bounced ideas off of people, one reason being with our last name, his full name might sound too much like Gryffindor. We bounced the idea off of some Harry Potter fans, and none of them came to that conclusion. Which is good, because he might just end up being a Hufflepuff!
What would you have liked to name a baby when you were younger?
For some reason, it’s always been easier for me to think of girl names. I was obsessed with the name Whitney for the longest time. There was a period of time when every single doll I had was named Whitney. And then my brother married a woman named Whitney so it may have been foreshadowing, I guess.
For boys, I grew up liking the name Nolan. I knew someone named Nolan who was just the sweetest person. Having the positive association helps, but I always thought it was such a nice name. Also, one of my favorite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and the main character is Francie Nolan.
I always like the idea — although I probably wouldn’t do this now, it’s too confusing — of having a little girl named Elaine. My grandma is Elaine McVicker, and that’s my first and middle name. I could have seen having a daughter named that. My parents obviously loved the name as well. When my grandma is being silly, my grandpa will call her Lainie, so my parents vowed they wouldn’t call me Lainie — they associate it with being goofy. But with a baby you look for something that ends in that E sound, so I was Lainie from day one.
You clearly love your own name — how did that influence you when choosing Griffin’s name?
I liked being the only Elaine and Lainie in class, and I feel like Lainie falls into that category of a name where you might know one person with the name. That led me to consider that litmus test for my own child.
One thing that I don’t like about Lainie — and maybe it’s just because it’s not a popular name — is that there’s no prevailing spelling. I feel like I spell it in a particularly complicated way, even though it’s based on Elaine, which is why it has the first I. Lainie Kazan, the actress from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, spells it my way!
We really wanted something with a dominant spelling. I know you could spell Griffin with an -en or -on, but you would be wrong!
My husband liked that too. He is Jack, but actually John — don’t even get him started on that! His parents said Jack was their favorite name, but they felt John was the appropriate way to name a Jack. Most people don’t know that anymore! But one thing he does love about his name is that you never have to tell anyone how to spell Jack. I’ve never witnessed him have to spell out his name for a Starbucks barista. How nice! The hope is that nine times out of ten, the Starbucks barista will spell Griffin’s name right.
Is it important to you that any future children’s names “match” or go with Griffin?
Oh-so-important! It’s so funny — Jack and I always say we wish we had a crystal ball so we could see what children we may have in the future. One thing that choosing Griffin has led us down the route of is that we really like Scottish, Irish, Celtic names. They are perfect with Griffin! And that’s my family’s origins, so it’s neat to choose something with that connection. We also like the F sound — I’m a speech therapist — it just feels right in your mouth!
Did you talk about girl names at all?
We did talk about girl names because we originally were going to wait to find out if it was a girl or a boy until the birth. But then my husband was like, “well, the only way not to drive yourself crazy with a surprise is not to think about it, and I want to be able to think about the baby, so can we please find out?”
My husband and I were really good friends for three years in college before we started dating, so this is silly, but we had a girl name we both loved during that time. That name was Josephine, nickname Josie. But that also started to get popular, although we still like it. It could be in our future! It has that nice F sound that we like. My paternal grandmother was named Mary Josephine, so it has an honor component as well.
One of the things we talked about with Josephine was that we do like the idea of a maiden middle name. My middle name is McVicker, which is my mom’s maiden name. My maiden name, though, isn’t super usable, so we’re thinking of using McVicker as a middle name for a daughter.
We also tossed around Eileen, because it’s the Scottish form of Elaine.
Another girl name that we like, and could use, is Fiona. But could they stop making the darn Shrek movies? My husband is from Cincinnati and we plan to eventually move there. But of course, Cincinnati’s biggest celebrity — and she’s so cute, but come on — it’s Fiona the Hippo! We do still really like Fiona, but there’s the ogre reference and now, the hippo. The name is so cute it might overcome it.
How important was it to you that the name flowed? I imagine as a speech therapist, this is something that you thought of.
Definitely! It’s funny though, we didn’t end up choosing a name that has a lot of early-developing sounds, so it may be a while before he can say his whole name. But it was really important that it sounded right together. We felt that the full name had a nice flow to it. We didn’t want a one-syllable first or middle name with our last name because it can get a little bit choppy.
What are the trendy names in your social circle? And what names have you been noticing among your clients?
The most popular names here are somewhat traditional. I do get some more out-there ones every once in a while, but I would say far and away, the most popular boy name in this area is Liam. As far as girl names, Sophia is very common here as well. I see a lot of Sophias, Olivias, Amelias. Very pretty, traditional, vowel-based names.
A trend that I’ve also been seeing in this particular area is more gender-neutral names. My niece is Cameron. They ended up naming their second Sophia, but their runner-up was Avery. There are a lot of Carters in this area, and every time I have one as a client, I make a bet with myself about whether they’re going to be a girl or a boy. I always guess boy, and I’m getting increasingly more wrong! Lots of Rileys as well. That’s another one where I guess — I tend to guess girl, but I’ve started to be wrong sometimes too.
Even my coworkers say that the name trends shift every year. We joke and say, “oh you started this job after the -aydens — the Jayden, Kayden, Braydens.” Now those kids are middle schoolers! It’s really funny how that tracks.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting the baby name process?
Really think about your child at all stages of life with that name. What will that name represent for and about them? In the baby name process, it’s so easy to get caught up with what you like and what you want. And while I definitely think you should go with a name that speaks to you, it’s so important to think about how that name will impact the person who has to wear it their whole life.
Thank you so much, Lainie!
Photos via Lainie and Jessi Ann Photography + Film