How I Named My Baby: Lark Berens Hall
They welcomed Lark in November 2021. We sat down with Abra to discuss his name story.
Tell me how you named Lark!
We accidentally found out that we were having a boy — it was going to be a surprise! It was a good thing, because we have oodles of gender-female names and were like, “Man, if we have a boy, we’re really going to have to figure this thing out.”
Instead of just rattling off names to each other for months on end, we started talking about what goes into a name. What are the benchmarks for success that we’re trying to hit here? My name is unusual, and I’ve really grown to love it. I feel the power that a name can have and wanted to try and convey something similar without making it such a difficult name that he would resent it or struggle with it. There’s a needle to thread there.
Both of our names are four letters, so we really liked that idea. My name is androgynous, and we to give him some space, should he want it later on, and to do our very small part to try and mitigate gender inequity.
Erik’s heritage is Swedish, and my heritage is Dutch, so we were naturally gravitating towards the Scandinavian names and Dutch names. We really liked nature names, but we were struggling to find something that didn’t feel either too precious or cute.
One day, we were listening to a song in the car where there were lots of bird references, and I thought that Lark had been one of them. We loved the name Hawk, but it felt like appropriation from Indigenous communities. Lark didn’t necessarily feel that way, so I started reading up on the bird. My husband is a musician, so the fact that it is the only bird that sings while it’s in flight felt neat. And it was similar enough to Mark and Clark that it felt like it wasn’t so out of left field.
We have a lot of sandhill cranes that migrate over our property, so we were joking about calling him Sandhill for a long time. Lark felt like it was more in the lexicon. When we looked it up, we found that Lark was a name that people have used before. It’s the diminutive of Larkin, which I also really liked, which is the diminutive of Lawrence.
The other part of his name is that it was on a lark that we even had him. I just turned 40, so I was like, “This isn’t going to happen.”
Erik has a joke that if we have a second child, we have to name them Fluke. Still a nature name! And every time we introduce them, we’ll say, “These are our children, Lark and Fluke.” “Mark and Luke?” “No, Lark and Fluke!”
Lark hit all of those benchmarks that we had set up, but really, it just felt right. I remember saying it to Erik in the car, and it was the only name where we weren’t like, “Well, maybe.”
What other names were you considering?
I really liked the name Lars, but there was that movie Lars and the Real Girl, which is what I think of.
The other name we looked at was Linden. Both as the tree and LBJ. I have a real fascination with presidential history, so it felt suitable. We loved names that felt like they were doubling over, for female names too.
We mostly thought of family names for female names. The people in my dad’s family who immigrated to the US were Andries and Andrieka, from the Netherlands. They went by Dries and Drieka. My nephew’s name is Dries, so I always really liked the idea of Drieka.
My grandmother’s name is Hazel, and Erik really likes alliteration, so Hazel Hall would be a nice combo.
I have a chef mentor in Lexington named Ouita, and our first conversation was about how our names are basically unpronounceable to most people. I really respect and adore her, and I really love that name.
How do you feel about your own name, and how did that influence your choice?
I love my name. I didn’t like it until college — everybody called me Abby growing up. When I did my college applications I used my real name, and that’s what was on the door of my college dorm.
I’ve come to really embrace Abra, and I liked that growth period with it. My parents got it from East of Eden. I have two older sisters who are a good deal older than I am. My mom was like, “Let’s just try one more time for a boy.” They had a boy name, Dries, but not a female name. In the book, there’s a character named Abra who’s supposed to be a boy but ends up being a girl. That was the thing that tied it all together.
It makes my parents sound super literary, John Steinbeck-ian, but my mom was very pregnant and watching the Jane Seymour TV mini-series East of Eden, which is where they got it from.
How did you decide to use your surname for his middle name?
There was a lot of debate about whether he would have Erik’s last name or my last name, which is why his middle name is Berens. I thought that it would have been a very feminist act to have his last name be Berens, but that’s my dad’s last name — it’s still patriarchal. Even if we go with my mom’s maiden name, it’s still the patriarchy. You can’t get out of it.
But I really love the family that I came from. My dad is an incredibly unique and inspirational person, and I wanted to honor that to some degree.
We didn’t feel like hyphenating, so the understanding with that is if we have more children, their middle name will also be Berens. I don’t want it to be a one-off nod or tacked on to something.
It was hard for me — we thought about a fourth name because I really love middle names. I felt like he was really only getting one name. We talked about using Saginaw as the second middle name, after Paul Saginaw, who’s also a dear mentor of mine. But it’s also a city in Michigan, which didn’t feel right.
We decided just to go with the three names, but Erik’s big push is to have him use all three names, like Philip Seymour Hoffman.
How would you describe your style outside of baby names?
We have an ongoing joke because we had a friend come over at one point who looked at our house and was like, “So you guys are minimalists, huh?” I don’t think either one of us would have described ourselves as minimalists, but we definitely prefer to not have clutter. We tend to buy fewer things, but things we intend to keep for a long time.
Personally, my style is pretty everyday and traditional, but hopefully with a little flair or something that’s different. I feel that way about my food. Nothing about the way I make my food is super groundbreaking, but hopefully there’s a subtle flavor combination or textural shift that feels compelling or catches you by surprise.
Your book titles, Ruffage and Grist are short, impactful, and down-to-earth, which feels similar to Lark. How does being a chef and an author compare to naming a baby?
That’s nice because I always try to make the names of the books sound kind of unappealing! It takes any preciousness out of it. They’re close enough that people will understand it, but different enough that it sticks with you.
There are chefs who are very chameleon-like, who can do a luau one night and a sushi dinner the next night and Italian feast the next. I am not one of those people. The food I make is the food I make, and it’s because it’s what occurs to me and what I’m interested in. Ultimately, Erik and I are both pretty practical folks. We did have a lot of practical consideration for the name.
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
I feel like I’m seeing a lot of the old-fashioned names, which I really love. Hazel is becoming more popular. A lot of folks seem like they’re naming after authors. I see a lot of Becketts and Hamiltons and things like that.
There are a lot of traditional male names like John and James and Theodore.
Did you have any fears related to baby names?
I feared that a name could cause conflict between Erik and I if we felt strongly different about it. We don’t tend to care what people say away from our faces, but we wanted to make sure it sounded good to others and that we wouldn’t regret it in 10 years.
People say when you see the child, you know what their name is, but I did not feel that way. I still feel like he’s settling into it. I felt that way with our dog, too! When we named our dog Zuma, it took a while. And now, she’s so clearly a Zuma. Lark is becoming Lark and will for a long time.
The responses right now are 50-50. Some people are very effusive and love it, and other people just don’t really respond. That feels about right! You want something that’s not immediately palatable to everyone. But it was important that the people whose opinion I value liked it.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
It feels very weighty to name someone. It’s not a black-and-white thing, and to be honest, we just made it up! That also seems like what parenting is? You’re just making it up. I don’t think any adult ever tells children that, because you’re lifting the veil of this authority you’ve leveraged to get what you want.
The name feels like a stand in for this larger theme of: we’re just trying to figure it out, making the best decisions that we can, and hoping it works out well. If not, he can change his name. He’ll have to figure out who he wants to be. We’ll try to instill our values in him, but ultimately, it’s his life. We’re just trying to be guides for him.
How does Lark’s name reflect your family values?
Thoughtfulness — we put a lot of thought into it. We love puns and double entendre, so that’s part of it. But also, a respect for nature and song.
Larks are not beautiful birds — they’re not peacocks. So it’s also about the everyday. Erik and I talk a lot about the everyday luxuries of living, and songbirds are definitely a part of that. Especially this time of year. It’s been so quiet with the snow, and now the birds and the frogs are really waking up where we are. Just sitting outside and listening to them is so nice. We’re not rich, but we live very richly. We have great meals and great wine and a lot of fun.
What advice would you give someone just starting the baby name process?
For all things, setting benchmarks that define what success looks like for you. It’s critical, otherwise you can get very distracted by what other people think or chase shiny pennies.
Use the baby naming process to practice communication with your partner. I feel very grateful that Erik and I have a strong marriage but adding a baby can be taxing on that. We put so much work into strengthening our relationship before Lark arrived, so that when we hurt each other out of feeling tired, feeling daunted — just how edgy a baby crying makes you — we knew how to communicate with each other.
How that is represented in the baby name process is that at first, it felt very judgy if one of us didn’t like a suggested name, but we found it had to be without judgment. We agreed that it wasn’t judgmental, and that has carried over into how we handle the baby.
Do you have a favorite gift you’ve received for Lark?
I have a coworker who I really adore, and her mom is a knitter. She knit this blanket for Lark that is so soft and beautiful. And I’ve only met her twice! I was telling my coworker Molly about this, and she got choked up, because her mother-in-law had just passed away from cancer the week before, she had started a sweater for Lark. She knew she wasn’t going to finish it, so she sent it to Molly’s mom to finish.
It’s just the kindest thing, that some of these women who I don’t know are excited about a baby and excited for us. That sweater is one of those things that I’ll probably never put on him — I’ll just put it in the cedar chest and hold onto it.
Did you buy anything special for Lark?
We’re making a commitment to each other not to buy anything for Lark in the first year. We’ve had a very generous community with hand-me-downs, and I truly love the network that pops up. Every time I feel overwhelmed, putting him in something that I know my friend Jill has put her babies in reminds me that this path has been trodden before and will be trodden again.
He had that classic fussy stage from three to six weeks, and I was sitting with him at two in the morning when he was just wailing. It occurred to me — someone has done this for every single person on the planet. Someone has carried you and held you and looked out for you. That feels very meaningful to me.
Thank you so much, Abra!