How I Named My Baby: Natalie Mara
Lisa, an IT manager, and her husband Gene, who works in finance, live in the Chicago suburbs with their two children.
Their daughter Natalie Mara arrived on January 5, 2021, joining older brother Isaac Edward. We chatted with Lisa about family names, honoring heritage, and how she and Gene chose the name Natalie for their little girl.
How long did it take you to decide on Natalie Mara?
Not that long! We had certain things we were looking for in a name. Her name honors my and Gene’s maternal grandmothers. My grandma’s name was Nettie and his was Mara.
We decided not to name her Nettie directly because it feels more like a nickname and is a little old-fashioned for us. Also, after we named our son Isaac Edward after my grandfather, there were so many references to “Little Poppy” — my grandpa. My husband and I wanted to avoid that our daughter.
Gene is Russian, so we wanted names that worked in both languages. At the same time, we didn’t want to use a name that felt too Russian when paired with our last name, like Anastasia might.
Natalie was a good compromise in that sweet space. It is the more Americanized version of Natalia, which is what most Russians would use. But Natalia was too many syllables because our last name, which has four syllables, is pretty long.
I like that there are a lot of different nickname options that she can choose from. I’ve been calling her Nat. In Russian, she could be Natasha. We appreciate that flexibility.
There’s a very clear link between Nettie and Natalie in terms of sound. Did you consider any other honor names?
My paternal grandma was Kate. We considered using Kate as a middle name and picking a different first name. One of our options was Mila, using the M initial instead of the full name, Mara. We decided against it because Mila plus our last name sounds pretty Russian and it’s also very popular right now, both as a standalone name and short form of names like Amelia.
When did you know you found “the Name?”
For both my son and daughter, it was the moment they were born. Gene and I were going back and forth between Natalie Mara and Mila Kate for a little bit, but right before the birth, we felt like we were settled. When she was born and the doctor asked me about her name, my husband looked at me and said “Natalie Mara?” I was like, “Yeah!”
Gene had a master list of names. We went through other names that we generally liked but wouldn’t necessarily honor the grandmas. Nothing really stood out that we agreed on besides Natalie and Mara. My husband liked Stephanie and Casey — very ‘80s! I have a lot of friends with those names. I liked more biblical names like Miri for Miriam and Ruth, but Gene wasn’t a fan.
Spelling was a big deal — we learned this with my son. People have been misspelling Isaac all the time. We felt that with Miri there’d be too many questions about how it’s spelled, and we wanted to avoid that.
I like the naming process, so it’d be fun to think about having more kids, but we’re done.
Okay, so if you were going to have a third kid, what names would be on the list?
Definitely Kate! Or something that would honor her. I would have liked to honor both of my grandmas, but there just aren’t enough names. My son’s middle name is Edward after my grandfather, so we wanted to make sure we were able to honor my husband’s family too.
I have no idea about a boy. I have no more men in my family left to honor! Boy names are harder — we struggled with Isaac’s name more than Natalie’s.
Does Isaac’s first name honor anyone?
No, we just liked the name. I liked Alex for him, but Gene was like “I know way too many Sashas.” It’s super popular in Russia.
I considered just naming our daughter Natasha, but Gene also knows so many women who go by Natasha, so Natalie felt fresher to him.
What are some of the trendy names in your social circle?
Mason! Oliver, and Mila, too. A lot of biblical names — in Isaac’s preschool class there are Elis, Jacobs, and Micahs. We also know a couple Alexandras — but one goes by Lexie and the other goes by Alex.
Did you talk to anyone else besides your husband about names?
No! We were very strict on nobody knowing until the baby is born. Mostly for superstition — it’s Jewish custom to wait to name the baby until they’re here and healthy. We also didn’t want anyone to influence our decision.
I got a lot of hints from my family about using Kate. Now the joke is that if my brother has a baby, it’ll be named Kate. He’s on the hook!
Did anyone ever give you funny suggestions for names?
I would have general conversations about names with my mom, and on one hand, she would have opinions about names she wanted to share, but on the other, she’d be like “don’t tell me!”
I remember one conversation with her where she asked, “are you naming her Amanda?” I was like “I don’t know where you got that, but…no.” She was happy about that — she sort of snuck in some names that she didn’t like.
Both of our families expected honor names. My mother-in-law was asking me about my grandmas’ names to fish out what we were thinking about.
How do you feel about your own name? Did it influence your choice of names?
I love my name! I’m named after my great-grandma and my daughter is named after her great-grandma — they were a mother-daughter pair named Lena and Nettie, and now we're a mother-daughter pair named Lisa and Natalie. It makes me so happy.
My great-grandmother Lena had three kids in Poland — they were all named after family and they all died. Then she came to the United States and had three more kids — my grandma, her brother, and sister — who all lived.
In the US she was like “forget this — I named my kids after family and none of them made it.” She didn’t have any family left to honor. So instead, my grandma and her siblings are all named after the holidays that they were born around. My grandma is Nettie for Nachamu Shabbat. Her sister was Sylvia or Simi for Simchat Torah — her birthday’s in September. And her brother was Paul or Pasey for Passover, because his birthday’s in April.
Natalie’s last name starts with an N, and initially we were on the fence about alliteration. But we bought into it! My mom and my grandma’s sister both had alliterative names — initials WW and SS — so Natalie’s name is also connected to theirs.
Knowing that I’m named after my family members made me want to pass on that tradition. It makes me feel a connection to my family. I hope my kids can experience that as well!
I love Isaac and Natalie’s names because they’re reflective of our family and our heritage. Now that they’re finalized, I feel so happy every time I see or say their names. Our kids are happy and healthy and I’m just so lucky.
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