Naming a Baby (or 2) When You’re Over 40
By Joslyn McIntyre
My stepdaughter, Emily, is 17 and already has her first daughter’s name picked out. She doesn’t even have a boyfriend, but she has confidently repeated this name to me several times. To which I usually respond, “Don’t you dare have a baby for at least ten years.”
When I was Emily’s age, long, long ago, I too, wanted to have lots of babies, right away, and I had all their names picked out. In fact, I kept journals full of potential baby names I would use with my future husband, River Phoenix. I planned to raise a brood of nature lovers we’d call things like Meadow, Fawn, and Seashell. Luckily for my actual daughters, River Phoenix and I never worked out.
But by the time it was my turn to name babies, I was in for a rude awakening. It turns out that choosing a name is a lot harder than teenage-me thought. You can’t just turn to the pages of Tiger Beat for ideas. (R.I.P. Tiger Beat—am I right, other ladies my age?)
There are actually four big factors that go into naming a baby as an older adult—five if you’re having twins.
1. As it turns out, you only get half the vote when naming your baby. Much of the time, you have a partner who gets to weigh in. And as you both get older, you develop a lot of very strong opinions about names. By the time you’re in your forties, you’ve probably met another human being with every single name in existence, and you have a lot of feelings about many of these people. The name you choose for your child cannot remind you of anyone you’ve ever hated or once loved.
Every other name my husband and I mentioned to each other was met with “Er, I dated one of those in college” or “Ugh, that’s the name of my boss’s wife” or just, you know, a look. Thus, I had to lose my number one favorite, Evelyn, early on. And I shot down Jon’s choice girl name: Tree. Not because it reminds me of anyone; it’s just a terrible name.
2. Along those lines, you can’t use a name one of your close friends has already claimed, even if she doesn’t have a baby and isn’t even kind of pregnant. We’ve all had a lot of time to think about baby names by the time we reach our forties. Several of my close friends had already scooped up some of the best: Winter (so good) and Evan—for a girl. I had to let those go. Sigh.
3. By the time we’re in our forties, we’ve had lots of time to hate our own names and wonder just what our parents were thinking. My mom, for instance, named me Joslyn. With a soft S. No, it’s not spelled with a “ce.” And do I look like a Roslyn?
I was compelled to give my own children names that would make it possible for them to order a cup of coffee at Starbucks. In my twenties, I would probably have gone for a much more out there name, involving Zs and Qs in unexpected places. Recently, a friend of a friend in her mere thirties named her daughter Mazurie (nickname: Maisie) and I have a little bit of baby-name-envy about it.
But I’m now far too practical for whimsical names. I want to spare my kids the time wasted spelling their name slowly over the phone and correcting its pronunciation millions of times. So out the window went some of the iconoclastic names I loved, but which seemed difficult, along with two names I adored but couldn’t figure out how to spell in a way that would make their pronunciation obvious: CARE-iss and k’r-IN.
4. The name you choose has to work with your last name. This is not something that’s unique to older moms, but it’s something that never occurred to me until I was in my forties and got pregnant. Suddenly, a lot of the names I’d had in the wings became irrelevant because my new last name is McIntyre. All of my beloved M names—Margaret (my paternal grandmother’s name), Maeve, Margot—sound too sing-songy with McIntyre. I might have overlooked this in my twenties and thirties, or even enjoyed the alliterative effect, but like I said, I’m older, wiser, and much more boring now.
5. If you’re having a baby in your forties, chances are pretty high you’re having two. The incidence of twins rises dramatically in older moms, both by virtue of the way that ovaries function and because of the higher rate of IVF births in older women. If you’re having twins, your naming job is not twice as hard, but exponentially harder, because you have to come up with two names—and they have to work together, in harmony, forever.
(By the way, in my experience so far, twin mommyhood in general is also exponentially hard, so naming your babies is good practice for that.)
There are two types of twin parents. The first one likes to match everything, from names to clothes. But if you’re the second type, like me, you prefer that things go together, but not too much together, if you know what I mean. I’m not really an Eva and Ava kind of twin mom, so I had to find two names that worked with each other but also stood on their own. That meant I couldn’t do one long, glorious regal name like Zypherine and one short, full-of-moxie moniker like Jojo.
So it is that, in the end, there were only two names left that Jon and I both loved, that worked with our last name, that worked together, and that didn’t remind us of anyone at all: Phoebe and Eliza. I love these names and feel like they are so right, even if we ultimately arrived at them by process of elimination.
Now, ask me how we chose middle names. That was some next-level planning.
Joslyn McIntyre is a Utah-based freelancer writer and editor at Outside Eye Consulting and mom to identical twin girls Eliza and Phoebe, crazy toddlers who learned to climb before they could speak. Naturally, their first word was “up.