Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Madison By Any Other Name

Recently we were hanging out with friends who are expecting for the first time. Talk turned to baby names, and Chip and I both groaned. Naming your kid is the first real test of parenthood, and it’s a tough one. I advised them to tell as few people as possible when they decide on something. People will smile and tell you that Zuma Nesta Rock Rossdale rolls off the tongue like a song when they meet the little tyke for the first time. But those same people will spend twenty minutes explaining to a woman in her 35th week that “Sure, Justin sounds fine, as long as you don’t mind your baby sharing a name with my ex. I mean, I tried to stick with him despite the abuse, but once he got my step-mother pregnant I had to leave him. But I’m sure your Justin won’t be like that at all.”

Everyone has an opinion on what the name should and shouldn’t be, and some of the arguments are legitimate. My brother, Shannon, reacted strongly when we mentioned we were considering Cameron the first time around. “You mean like Cameron Diaz? You’re naming your son after one of Charlie’s Angels? Nice. You might want to consider a manly name, like Bob or Norm.” Chip wanted to name the baby what we actually called it, so it wouldn’t have to fight with teachers and classmates on the first day of school each year, insisting that although his name is Roscoe Enis Chockley, he goes by Duke. You also want to avoid anything too trendy, like this one I’m noticing among the kindergarten set: Hayden. Seriously: The Clone Wars came out in 2002, and all the pregnant geeks said, “HAYDEN!” I’m sure these people kept their naming choices to themselves, or else surely their friends would have given them a lecture about wooden acting and the slow erosion of George Lucas’ legacy. But I say, more power to ’em- they picked a name and stuck with it. Plus I’ve only met two five-year-olds with this name so far- unlike the billions of Connors who entered kindergarten this fall.

We wanted to have a fun, interesting name for each of our kids, but we ended up chickening out both times. I admire my friends and their Genevieves and Delaneys and Zenos. I spent the end of my first pregnancy watching the NBA playoffs and begging Chip to let me pick a name from there. “Stromile is so poetic!” I’d exclaim, until Chip reminded me that it didn’t really go with “Chockley.” He’s right- that last name really tripped us up. I tried to push for Shaquille Oliver Chockley, since Shaquille O. Chockley had a good ring to it. No dice. I tried to incorporate my middle name, Lee, but I couldn’t get Chip to sign off on Brock Lee Chockley. (This is the reason I ignored all of his suggestions the second time around.) Although both of my kids' names were pretty far down the list of popular names the year I was pregnant, they both showed up near the top for the year they were born. Apparently the rest of the pregnant women and I were thinking the same thing- too bad we didn’t consult each other first. I might have gone with Shannon Cullen Chockley after all, if I had gotten the memo that everyone else was using Chloe.

But really, I love my kids’ names because I love my kids, and when I hear “Connor Stephen” and “Chloe Bess” it always makes me smile. (Unless I’m using their full names because they are in trouble, but that’s a different blog post.) That’s why I suggest holding the final decision close to the vest until the baby is born. It’s much easier to love the name Pilot Inspektor Riesgraf Lee when you’ve seen the baby and realized you love the whole package. Ultimately, that’s why a name works- because of the relationship you have with the person behind the name, not because the Commercial Appeal online commenters like it or not.

Our pregnant friends told us some of the names they were arguing over, each pleading their case to get “their” names added to the short list. “I like Madison. . .” one of them started, when Chip and I both cut in, tripping over each other to tell them why Madison was horrible. “She’ll be Madison M. her whole life, so she doesn’t get confused with Madison K. and Madison B.!” Chip argued. I told the story of how one time, Shannon looked at Connor’s class picture and said, “Which one is Madison?” I pointed her out and asked why, if maybe Connor had mentioned her. “I just wanted to know which one was named Madison! I knew there had to be at least one!” Our friends sighed and realized they should have taken my advice, as Chip and I were quick to shoot down a name as long as it was still theoretical. We insisted we were just handing them the facts about Madison, and if they used the name we would still love their baby. They looked suspicious, but continued the discussion anyway. As we moved from girl names to boy names, I made a silent promise to keep anything negative to myself. “So- what do you think about Anakin?”


Mrs. Katherine said...

I named my daughter Harper, and people often say that it sounds like a boy's name. But they can't ever tell me a boy they know with that name. And even if they could, who cares?!? You should meet her...she's the Harper-est Harper there ever was!!

Cullen said...

Whatever, you helped me win that argument. I couldn't stand Madison being one of the options, but for different reasons at the time. To me, it just sounded like a sorority girl at Ole Miss. So that conversation worked in my favor.

Memphisotan said...

The Social Security Administration's baby name popularity page is a pregnant woman's best friend:

It not only gives the usual Top 10, but also lets you search a given name and track its course on the Top 1000 over a period of time. When I was pregnant, I refused to consider any name with a more-than-50-place jump over the previous five years.

What mystifies me is the name zeitgeist that has no obvious explanation. Whence the Aidens and Olivias?