Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 30, 2012

Naming a child is more discovering than choice


— Some official file somewhere notes my oldest son’s birth — the date and time, the location, his parents’ names, probably even the attending physician’s name. The file is his Elkhart County, state of Indiana certificate of birth, a record noting his transition from water to air, which happened in November 2003.

One of these days I’ll likely get down to the health department to pick up a copy of the birth certificate, which, to date, I’ve never needed so have not done. When or if I get it, I’m pretty sure it will tell me everything about his birth. But it won’t tell me his NAME.

If I remember right, it reads, instead, “Infant Male Price.”

You see, no way was I planning to extend my hospital visit to eight days. No way! I barely made it to my required 48 hours post surgery before heading for the door. But it wasn’t until our baby boy was eight days old that we even KNEW his name, so we simply could not tell the nurses what it was.

I remember — and sympathize with — their exasperation:

“But you HAVE to give us a name!” they said.

“Well, we don’t know it yet, so we can’t,” we replied.

“Well, can’t you just PICK one?” they asked.

No, friends, no — my husband and I cannot just “pick” one.

 It is William Shakespeare’s Juliet who asks, “What’s in a name?” She goes on to pontificate: Names don’t matter. A rose would smell the same if it were called “manure.”

Oh, Juliet. I never did like her. Whiny, immature. That and she kills herself over puppy love. So I’m not quick to trust her philosophies of life.                            Names do matter. Very much so.

That’s why we couldn’t just “pick” one for the boy now called “Azariah Yosef.” We had to look at him, get a sense of who he was and discern what words should be spoken over him — to him, about him — millions of times in his life.

Notice I wrote “discern?” Personally, I believe naming a child is much more about parents discovering rather than choosing. Azariah’s name wasn’t ours to PICK but ours to FIGURE OUT.

IT’S THE TIME OF year people report what the most popular baby names were for 2012 and offer their predictions for 2013. I took a look. Top five U.S. boy names for 2012? Jacob, Mason, William, Jayden and Noah. And girls? Sophia, Isabella, Emma, Olivia and Eva.

It’s the 13th consecutive year for Jacob at the top; the first for Sophia, who finally overtook Isabella.

You can see complete lists for boy and girls for 2012 at http://baby-names.familyeducation.com. For fun, go here to compare the top five for the last 100 years: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/top5names.html. You’ll see “Mary” was No. 1 from 1912 to 1946 and “John” from 1929 to 1952, among other fun facts.

I witnessed several dozen babies born in 2012 — four just this past week! — and loved hearing what parents named them. What interests me, more often, is not the names themselves but how parents choose them. I almost always ask.

One client said she needed to snatch up her daughter’s name, “Maria” — ironically changed here for privacy’s sake — before someone else in her family got it. Others report family names are important, so they’re culling from grandparents and aunties for stately classics like “Charlotte” or “Sebastian.”

Among my favorite moments ever in life was when a client-now-friend leaned into me right after her daughter was born and said, “Guess what her name is?” I’m embarrassed to admit for a second I thought she was going to stay “Stephanie,” but she said my own daughter’s name, though we’d have different spellings.

I queried my tech-savvy Facebook friends for their baby-naming strategies. I was pleasantly amused to hear how SCIENTIFIC many are. For example, one friend noted she and her husband assign numerical values to their top names. Then, through a complicated formula people like me don’t even PRETEND to understand, they run equations until a final answer squeezes out.

And — you guessed it — there are apps for naming your baby.

One initial search yielded 18 apps for the iPhone alone. Look up your favorite names, and the app will help you decide. Probably more equations I don’t understand.

Another friend’s strategy wasn’t quite so complicated: When he and his wife couldn’t fully agree, they put their three favorites in a hat and picked. Out came the lovely “Mary-Grace.”

Other ways people go about naming babies in the U.S.? Several people told me they consult the U.S. Social Security Administration database either to see what’s popular, get ideas or to make sure they choose unique names.

Others want their children all to have the same initials, like all being “J.A.B.” or whatever, and I’ve been with more than a few families whose children all at least have the same first-name initial — like Jacob, Jana, Jayden, Jennifer and Jolisa, for example.

Some people want to name children after elders; others are strongly against that. One friend told me, “We want them to be their own men.”

Most cultures the world over attribute some significance to naming children. In fact, naming rituals and ceremonies can be rich and diverse in cultures from Orthodox Judaism to Nigerian villages. In the Scriptures, we can read about the naming of the sons of Jacob and how crucial and telling they were.

If you’re stumped about picking a baby name, make sure you at least do this: Find out what it means. Plenty of online resources, apps and books disclose the etymology of names. Make sure you’re not calling your baby, “hairy goat” in Greek or something.

However you discover your baby’s name, make sure you don’t set him or her up for a lifetime of headache. Sometimes the alternative spellings are pretty, for example, but I cringe thinking how often someone’s going to have to correct it.

Finally, be purposeful and make sure the name “fits” the child. I balk — just a little — when people are set on names before they’ve ever even conceived. “Really?” I think. “What if your baby’s not a ‘Holden Bryce’ at all?”

One of my favorite baby-naming stories this year was from a couple originally from another country. They spent several weeks wrangling over the name of their newborn son. I waited to hear what wonder they would choose, dreaming of the multi-syllabic, culturally rich title they’d pick.

They named him “Dave.”

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”