One Mother’s Challenge: Naming Baby Number 3

By Debra Liese

When I was naming each of my three children, I was overwhelmed (my family would say obsessed) with the near impossible task of encoding more of life into one word than seemed possible. My third child, a girl, proved an unprecedented challenge. My husband, mystified, would tell me to choose a name I just liked.

But my process was different, I insisted. There had to be an origami of symbolism! “You’re like Borges,” one friend told me, confronted with an ornate justification for the name May. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Assorted friends and family looked questioningly at similar extrapolations on favorites like Roxana, Inka, Frieda, Silvia, Maren, Louisa, and Judith (nickname Jude, what’s not to like?). Just keep thinking, my mother advised. And think I did, though with increasing guilty anxiety. Why was it so hard?

My first baby’s name, Beatrice, had struck me as divine inspiration, well before I’d analyzed trends and become conscious of  ‘vintage names’ as a category. Beatrice came to me purely, all Dante’s muse and with the heartwarming bonus of the sweet nickname Bee, which to my delight, was the Hebrew meaning of my own name, Debra.  My second child, a boy, was also easily named: Edward, this time, after my great uncle Eddie, a pilot who had worked with Amelia Earhart. I’d always been most comfortable with my feet planted firmly on the ground, so the association in my mind with flight seemed aspirational and perfect.

Naming is a creative process, and you’re creative, I told myself, with less and less certainty, as my third pregnancy wore on. I’d had my first daughter when I was rather young, moving out of our studio apartment just weeks before her arrival. Those had been more instinctual times. Though not a child myself, I was still tapped into something mystical from childhood, and I’d ambled through the local cemetery in a maternity sundress, perusing names on the headstones, dreaming.

Four years later, I was in a different place. I felt disconnected from my own childhood, and my younger self’s notion of creative authority. I was juggling work and diapers, fretting about school systems and college funds. My friends had started to have kids themselves, and many names were spoken for, had been discussed, categorized. Nameberry was wonderful in helping to draw up a list of names in a similar vein as those of my first two kids’, but the results felt contrived. How could I simply select her name from a list of names similar in style and popularity? The whole thing had become a panicky exercise in statistics.

It’s funny though, how the sudden and improbable appearance of new life can stop such agonizing in its tracks. When I held my yet unnamed daughter, she didn’t lie still and let me examine her tiny perfection as my other two had. I’d imagined trying different names on her like hats, but all life and possibility, she wiggled furiously, her expression changing every second. Catherine made its way to my addled brain because I thought of purity, and pure, after all, is the Greek meaning! And there it stayed, though less for me to try on than for her to inhabit. I had the impression it had always been there, like music, like the color of my childhood bedroom. And soon, the associations were everywhere: the gutsy character in my favorite book from childhood, the name I used to love to write on notebooks in script without knowing why—a word with as much grace and as impossible to pin down as she is.

Catherine is now two, and recently someone remarked, “good name, mama!” after she introduced herself. Before I could take credit for my feat of good taste, Catherine replied, confused, “But Catherine is MY name!” Nothing, of course, could be more true. Naming might bring out the creative control freak in some of us, but our control over what we love the most has always been superficial at best, and we only create to let go.

Debra Liese is a book publicist, Pushcart-nominated writer, and mother to a 2, 3, and 7 year old. Follow Debra on twitter @DebraLiese

Did you find it easier to name your first or later child/ren?

Note: Catherine is the darling little girl pictured.

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12 Responses to “One Mother’s Challenge: Naming Baby Number 3”

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Tiggerian Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 1:49 am

Our first son while it wasn’t easy there was never a lot of choice. We had a couple of names and never really discussed a lot of names. Our second son had his name from the get go, the name we didn’t use the first time – but this time, our third, oh my god! I’m only in the first trimester and I already feel like strangling my other half for being so difficult. He vetoes all my favorites, likes nothing, makes jokes about every name I suggest.. I think I may end up certifiable insane if this baby turns out to be another boy! At least girls name we can agree on!

sarahmezz Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 3:04 am

Cute story! I love Beatrice, Edward and Catherine and they sound lovely together.

handsallover Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 3:13 am

How interesting! Dear Debra, you did a good job and your children have wonderful names!

guest99 Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 11:33 am

Great article!! My MIL hated all the names i wanted to use, why did i even tell her. I really liked Roxanna but also my SIL AND my cousin used it and they would throw a fit if i used it too!!! Hmm what do you think — should we be allowed to use a name if other people in the family already used it?? (PS, i named her Lucia)

Mummy2Ronnie87 Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Had no issue naming my son. My son is named after my great uncle Ronald (although my son’s first name is just Ronnie, like my cousin’s first name is just Reggie and is named after my grandfather Reginald, his little bro is named Ronnie after my great uncle too)

guest99, My son and my cousin’s are both named Ronnie, it was suggested to us while I was pregnant with my son and my OH loved it and then after our son was born my uncle and aunt tried for another baby and wanted to use Ronnie (they were the ones who suggested it for our baby), but they did ask, we had no problem with it. It might have been different if it had been my sister/brother who’d used it.

We also love the name Alexandria and my sister wanted to name her daughter Lexi, she asked me if I minded, I said no, because I wouldn’t shorten Alexandria to Lexi my OH and I prefer the nicknames Alex or even Ally and personally I hate the name Lexi.

VegasCountryQueen Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I’ve got my future first two names (Ava Madeline for a girl, Easton Malachi) set in stone. My third, however, is really hard. I don’t want it to be similar to Ava or Easton and I want it to somehow honor someone.

guest99 Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Mummy2 Ronnie, nice story! It sounds like you have a really nice family. We also have a couple of Alexandras, named for a greatgrandmother. Vegas, think something up quick in case you have triplets, LOL

tori101 Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Ah such a great story!
I love your kid’s names as well. Beatrice, Edward, and Catherine sound gorgeous together!!

Mom2one2 Says:

July 15th, 2013 at 10:18 pm

How lucky that she has a name that fits her perfectly! All of your children’s names are beautiful!
My first practically came out wearing a name tag! Easy peasy. Baby 2…oh I still know if I truly chose the perfect name for her or if one is even out there and why I still (4 months later) drive myself crazy over it! Before she arrived I was somewhat settled, but we know so very many children it really took a lot of names off the table. And then I had that same experience where she just wouldn’t let me get a good look at her and I couldn’t seem to test out any names…Now if there ever is a baby 3-her name will be set in stone before he or she ever makes an appearance! I can’t go through the agony of a nameless baby again!

debraliese Says:

July 17th, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Thanks for all of your comments. Mom2one2, I understand, as I too had a lot of angst about this process. My last two children were only 11 months apart, so my anxiety about that had a bit of a spillover effect. It’s funny how the child really does inhabit the name and make everything so much less abstract and worrisome. Naming is so stressful I think because it gives us a sense of control, when in reality, we have so little control over the whole process of pregnancy and childbirth. Before they appear on the scene, it feels like you’re deciding their whole identity–but once they’re here, and fully settled into existence, they really do make everything their own.

Word Perfect | debra liese Says:

July 18th, 2013 at 10:05 am

[…] version of this appeared on Nameberry of the Parents […]

Anaxandra Says:

March 27th, 2014 at 11:33 am

I’m always kind of amused by people who settle on names before they are even pregnant. You don’t even know if the name suits the baby at that point. With mine, I had names picked out fairly early. Being a name geek I have a constant favorites list, and I go over it time to time. That it changes and evolves over time probably helped me be more relaxed about the process and I really enjoy thinking about the potential. Our plan was to go in with a short list but have one name selected, mostly because it was recommended to help not stress over it. Two months before my daughter was born, I abandoned her selected name and picked up one that hadn’t ever been on my long list. We agreed (luckily my husband and I has similar taste so we like most of the same names) and that was it. It seemed to fit her and I felt secure about it being the right name. My son I felt uncertain about, he was less active so I didn’t get as much of a sense of who he was I think. We went in to the hospital with my husbands favorite name but I had my doubts (although I do like the name and it’s still on my short list). As soon as I saw him though I knew his name, and it wasn’t the one we decided on going in, it was a name I had dropped from the short list some months ago. Next time I’m just going in with a short list, in case, and probably the long list too. Now I think more about the list in terms of a variety of temperaments, does this name IMHO suit a rambunctious child? a quiet child? Do I imagine them to be fair like my husband or dark haired like me? I feel confident that I’ve given enough thought that at the least, I will be able to select a name when I meet him/her.

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