How I Named My Baby: Henrietta Beatrice
Emma and John Parker live in Santa Barbara, California with their two children. They welcomed their youngest on September 20, 2020 — a daughter named Henrietta Beatrice.
Here, we talk to Emma about how she and John chose the baby name Henrietta for their little girl.
How long did it take you to decide on a name?
Quite a while – with my son, I’d always known if we had a boy, I wanted to name him Whitten. (It’s a family name in my family, dating back to a distant relative – Sir Arthur Whitten Brown – who was the navigator in the first transatlantic flight; my uncle and my cousin both have Whitten as their middle name, but we think ours is the first Whitten with that as his first name in our family). Around the time we found out I was pregnant, my husband’s uncle with whom he was really close passed away. One night John asked, “What about Whitten Allan?” and I replied, “I had that exact thought this morning!”
Anyway, we both knew SO strongly that that was Whitten’s name, so I felt a lot of pressure to come up with something similarly “right” and meaningful for our second baby. It was made more difficult by the fact that we decided to be surprised by the sex this time. We had narrowed down to two girl names and selected one by probably 7 months pregnant, but we hadn’t decided on a boy’s name going into the birth (which is something I swore I’d never do!).
What strategies did you use to narrow down your name choices?
After having such a strong family connection to both of our son’s names, for this baby, I needed the same. I also liked the idea of names that have a few possible nicknames so that when she’s older she can decide if she wants to be Henrietta, Hetta, Hattie, Etta, etc. I also needed it to pass the boardroom test: would people take her seriously as a CEO or a senator with her name? As we were circling around a few names, I also gravitated towards family names that we had a connection to, not just names that happened to be in our family trees.
Did you ask anyone for advice about baby names?
Not advice, per se, but I asked my parents what their grandparents’ names had been and, knowing that we wanted family names, they would periodically text me and say, “So and so was named this” or “I had an uncle named that”. Unlike with our first child, we didn’t tell anyone what the baby would be named, and I don’t think we even told anyone what was on the shortlist this time.
Is your baby named after anyone?
Yes! Henrietta was my mom’s Nana, with whom she was close — when we told her I was pregnant with my older child she immediately claimed “Nana” for her grandmother name. Beatrice was my husband’s grandmother. Neither of us ever actually met either of these women, but both of them were important to our respective moms, so it felt meaningful.
What name did you hate to let go of?
I really liked the name Theodore for a boy and there is actually a Theodore somewhere in my family tree, but I couldn’t tell you who he was or how we were related, so I didn’t feel connected enough. It also feels like it’s getting pretty popular.
What would your younger self have liked to name the baby?
When we were pregnant with my son, a girl would have absolutely been named Lucy. This time it wasn’t even on the list.
What would your baby be named if it was totally up to you? If it was up to your partner?
I think she would have had the same name if it was totally up to either of us — my husband had veto power, but he didn’t independently come up with many suggestions on his own and he liked the ideas I came up with.
Did your feelings about any of the names on your list shift over time?
Yes — we had settled on a boy name at some point along the way and one day I just turned to my husband, started crying, and said, “I think I might hate that name!” It was my grandfather’s name, so I felt bad, but I just couldn’t imagine an infant or even a toddler with that name. I think part of the emotion around it was that deep down, I really wanted a girl. For girl names, we had it narrowed down to two first names and we went back and forth on them for a while.
Was it important to choose a name that ‘matched’ your baby’s older siblings’ — or future siblings’ — names?
It was important to me that this baby’s name had a similar level of significance. I didn’t want our second child growing up knowing that my son’s name was really meaningful and had these lovely family connections and that we just liked a name and gave it to our second child. I needed her name to have a similar feeling of connection.
Was it easier to come up with girl or boy names?
This time around, girls because we had already used the boy names we really loved. (Last time, it was the opposite!)
How important a consideration was the flow of the first, middle, and last names?
Not terribly important, although I wanted it to sound good with our last name. At some point when I was pregnant with our first, I realized that since our last name ends in “-er” the first name couldn’t end in that because it was hard to say and sounded funny.
What was your biggest fear related to baby names?
This time, it was either that I’d decide I didn’t like it or that someone would make fun of it. Actually, the Nameberry article about one of our frontrunners for a boy’s name said something like, “If you decided to go with this name, you could really only use the whole name because none of the nicknames are good.” It really made me second guess it because one of the reasons I liked it was for the multiple nickname possibilities (some of which are, admittedly, not good).
Did your baby’s older siblings have opinions or suggestions for names?
No, although when she was born, we did ask for his input on which of the nicknames we were going to try out.
Which partner had more fun with the baby name process?
I definitely was more into it, although I think it was more stressful for me!
Did you experience ‘name regret’ at any point?
I had one brief moment where I wondered if we’d made the wrong choice, but the longer I know our daughter the more I’m sure she’s a Henrietta (or at least a Hattie, which is what we call her a lot of the time).
Have any unexpected nicknames come up for your baby?
Not really. I had a shortlist of possible nicknames for Henrietta when she was born. Our 3-year-old liked Hattie as a nickname, so sometimes she gets called variations on that (“Hattie Bear” is one…).
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
How much more emotional it was for me this time. I think because we were so sure what our son’s name would be so early on, the closer I got to my due date, the more anxious/upset I got that we hadn’t settled on our final names.
Thank you so much, Emma!
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