How I Named My Baby: Penny Mae
We talked to Laurie about her journey to motherhood and naming Penny.
Tell me about your path to single motherhood by choice.
I moved in with my college boyfriend after we graduated and pretended like I was an adult. And then we broke up. When I moved to Chicago I dated a lot, but never got serious with anyone. All my friends were starting to have kids when I was in my thirties. I was getting nervous as I was nearing 35. I really wanted to have kids but wasn’t sure if it was going to be in my path.
I ended up going to a doctor and talking about AMH levels and freezing eggs. But there was no way I could afford it. I was way in debt from living in Lincoln Park as a Trixie and having champagne taste on a beer budget. I couldn’t afford to freeze my eggs and I also couldn’t tell you that at 40, I’d want to do it on my own. I didn’t even want to ask for a loan because I wasn’t sure how serious I was at that point.
Then I started my vintage shop LB Finds and got out of debt in a year — it was nuts. I’d go to the Goodwill on my lunch hour and back again later.
At 40, I had lunch with my friend Ashley. We were talking and she said, “Well, why can’t you have a kid now?” I had some friends who had done it, but I was always like, “I don’t know…” But that day was my Oprah moment. I made an appointment with the doctor.
I went through three IUIs, two IVFs, and nothing worked. Fertility clinics shut down completely during the first months of the pandemic. It sucked — you’re on this road and then you have to stop completely. When they picked back up in June, I tried one more IVF cycle. I thought for sure it was going to work — I totally thought that I was pregnant. But, of course, it didn’t work. So I switched clinics.
My new doctor was great. Eventually, I was pregnant! Getting pregnant was like a third job. It took over.
How did you come up with Penny Mae?
It was inspired by my friend Angela, who also has a daughter named Penny. I’ve always loved her name. At first, I was thinking of the combo Penny James, because James is my grandpa’s middle name. I reached out to Angela and was like, “Hey, just wanted to see if Penny would be offended — I’m thinking about naming my baby Penny James.” She was like, “Oh yeah, we named her Penny James after my grandfather too...” — her middle name is James! Angela was totally cool with it, but I just couldn’t give my child the same exact name as my friend’s. I was feeling like a stalker! I was like, what different names can I use with Penny?
Angela’s Penny is actually Penelope. I wanted just Penny because my real name is Lauren, but I go by Laurie. Half the people in my life call me Lauren because that’s what’s on my resume, and the other half call me Laurie. I wanted my child to have one name.
What was the inspiration for Mae?
Mae comes from my best friend Derek. He and his wife Andrea had been a part of my pandemic bubble — I looked like a sister wife in all the photos from that year. They have two girls, Mae and Annie, and I love them like they’re family. Mae is five, and I’ve been around her for her entire life. She was so excited about me being pregnant — she even had a pregnant Barbie. I told Derek and Andrea that I liked the name Penny Mae, but not to tell Mae, so she didn’t get her hopes up.
I had a C-section, and when she came out, the doctors asked me if I wanted to hold the baby first, or if my sister should. I had the shakes really badly from the medication, so my sister took her and asked, “Is her name Penny Mae?” I said, “I…don’t…know…” I didn’t want to make a decision until she came out — I wanted to see her first.
It wasn’t until afterwards in the recovery room that I decided. But I didn’t even have to look at her to know. I was like, “It’s Penny Mae.” It fits her really well.
When Mae found out the next morning, it was magical. She only calls her Penny Mae. I had a few people ask if Penny Mae was her first name. She’s just Penny, but I have a feeling a lot of people will call her Penny Mae.
Did you know you were having a girl?
I didn’t do genetic testing, so I didn’t get to choose the sex of the baby. But I did the ten-week blood test. Of course, I wanted a girl. I got the results email sooner than I thought I would and FaceTimed my sister. I wanted to open it with someone and share the excitement. We were like, “Oh my god, it’s a girl!”
What was it like naming a baby by yourself?
I was actually grateful that I was by myself during the pregnancy. I napped every day; I didn’t feel well — I felt like I complained all the time. I was so glad I wasn’t annoying someone else.
Naming is the same way I feel about parenting her. It’s not easy, but it’s nice to not have someone to fight with over the way that you’re doing things. It was my decision.
What other names did you consider?
I told a lot of people I loved the name Penny. I also liked Lucy, Ulla — like Ulla Johnson — and Goldie. I also thought about my Grandma Baker, who passed away last year. Her name was Milly, but there are a lot of Millies these days. Penny was always number one.
If she was a boy, she was going to be Carl — my grandfather’s name. My grandpa was amazing, He was very funny, very sarcastic.
If you were going to name another girl, what would you choose?
If I was really a stalker, I love Angela’s other daughter’s name, Ramona, but I wouldn’t do that!
When I graduated college and was living with my boyfriend, I wanted to name a daughter Annabelle. My great-grandma was Sylvia, and I like that too.
I love the name Lola, but that was my dog’s name for 12 years, so that would have been a little weird.
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
My best friend has boys named Zane and Axel. My friend Ashley has daughters named Scout and Luna. A lot of people have Margots right now. I know kids named Victory, Nettie, Greta, Otis, August, and Winston.
How would you describe your personal style beyond baby names?
I’m into vintage-modern. My home is a mix of new stuff and quirky décor pieces. Clothing-wise, Madewell is my schtick. I think the name Penny fits my style!
It also matches the aesthetic of LB Finds, which I would really like to continue. I’ve tried going to shops with Penny and it’s very hard. I usually pop in and out within minutes, but now I have to take Penny out and deal with the stroller… it’s exhausting. Even having her in the carrier is difficult.
My hope is that I’ll get the motivation to do it again. My biggest season is Christmas. I go to my hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, and buy tons of vintage Christmas stuff. So I might just sell around the holidays.
What advice would you give to someone just starting the baby name — or SMBC — process?
Obviously take your time. As you think of names, write them down. I had a note on my phone that I would add to as I was watching TV and stuff.
People should freeze their eggs if they’re not in a committed relationship, want to have kids, and can afford it. I really want to support single mothers by choice.
What was your favorite gift you received for Penny?
Working in the kid business for so long, I have a lot of knowledge about the great brands. My former boss got her a Misha & Puff cardigan. Penny wears that a lot — it’s super special.
There are these blocks that you can order on Etsy — they have a P, her birth time, and her weight. They’re very sweet gifts — I actually got two of them!
Her changing pad is Keekaroo — one that you can just wipe down, which I love. This week I discovered the brand Goumi — their pajamas are amazing. I love gowns for her for nighttime.
I bought the Artipoppe carrier for myself, which is expensive but awesome.
I have an aesthetic and I know it’s not a big deal, but my friends bought her a Fisher-Price bright pink plastic thing. I finally brought it out after having a rough night with Penny, and she freaking loves it.
What are the cool things to do in Chicago with kids?
I’m still figuring that out! I’ve gone to the Garfield Park Conservatory a couple of times with Penny. It’s super easy with newborns. I love to do outdoor things because she can scream outside. We went to Antique Taco’s anniversary party, and she did really well. The DJ was super loud, but she slept through the whole thing!
Lincoln Park Zoo opens at 8am, so I want to take her one morning just to get outside. I’m glad that I had Penny in the Spring! The winter would have been depressing because it’s hard to get out. I feel like I have to leave the house at least once a day.
Laurie's (and Penny's) Favorite Things
Thank you so much, Laurie!
Photos via Laurie Baker and A Little Photo Studio