Thursday, February 18th, 2010
In all my years of daydreaming about naming a child, I never thought the reality of it would be so difficult. In high school when my sister and I were playing our invented game “Rad or Bad,” a version of The Game of Life that evolved to be all about seeing how many kids you could get and naming them, it was easy to come up with 22 names for the peg children in our plastic cars. There were no fears about spelling or pronunciation, no concerns about teasing nicknames.
Most of all, the imaginary peg fathers didn’t factor into the decision much.
I should’ve known D and I would have a hard time agreeing on a name. D just didn’t want to talk about it, has never wanted to. Every time I brought it up, he’d shut down, get frustrated, or try to say, “We need to wait until X before we decide.” First, it was until we found out the gender, and then it was until the third trimester, and then, I’m sure, it would’ve been until the baby was born. And then maybe until she started kindergarten.
My mother told me to stop bugging him about names, but I pointed out that it wasn’t just going to happen spontaneously. D was not going to come home with some magic, perfect suggestion. He was not going to one day decide, “Now is the perfect moment – I want to talk about names.”
And I tried to make it easier on him, I really did. I’d stop talking about it for a week or two at a time, so it wasn’t a nonstop assault. On our long car ride to Chattanooga, I flipped to the “Charms and Graces” and “Antique Charm” sections of my Baby Name Wizard book and read off names for him to say yes, no or maybe to. He said no to all but two and then later decided he didn’t like those either.
I even tried to come up with names related to his family somehow, because those were the only ones he seemed to show a flicker of interest in. Anastasia because of his mother’s name, Rosemary and Catherine because of his grandmother’s name. I looked for variations of Nancy because it was his other grandmother’s name.
D probably would’ve been content with Rosemary or maybe even Charlie (my dad’s suggestion, after my grandmother Charlie Mae), but then came the part where I was difficult. When we saw our baby girl on the ultrasound screen last month, Rosemary Imogene (Imogene after his middle name Eugene) was the top contender, and D said “We have a Rosemary!” But instantly I knew the name didn’t connect with that baby on the screen. In my heart, from the beginning, she had been Ruby, and Rosemary was nice but just didn’t capture the same vibe as Ruby.
But D was not happy with Ruby, not because he didn’t like it but because, as I wrote about back in December, the name had potential for causing family drama because it is D’s aunt’s name. He thought his mother would be offended if we named our child after her sister-in-law. I pointed out that I also have a great-aunt named Ruby, and it wouldn’t be “after” anyone really. I just like the name, and the ruby is my birthstone, and there’s this little bluegrass tune from the movie Cold Mountain called “Ruby With the Eyes That Sparkle,” and ever since I heard it years ago, I liked the idea of naming a daughter Ruby. To me, it’s old-fashioned but in a spunky way rather than a stuffy way, and I could just picture my spunky little Ruby with her eyes that sparkle.
Then we mentioned the name to D’s parents and his mom didn’t freak out. Instead, she said something quite reasonable: “It’s your baby, so it’s your decision.”
With that last obstacle out of the way, I thought D might be persuaded. But then he said we could use Ruby only if we first got approval from his teenage first cousins once removed, who might want to name their as-yet-unplanned-let-alone-conceived babies Ruby after their grandmother. I refused on principle. No way was I giving a couple of teenagers the right to say, “yeah, maybe one day when I’m of child-bearing age, I might want to use that name.” What if they never had kids? Or never had girls? Or changed their minds and didn’t use Ruby after all?
And, as I pointed out to D, what did it matter if they did use the name? Our kid and theirs would be something like second cousins, once removed. Also, we see these people only once every year or two at Christmas, and D couldn’t even remember one of their names.
But my arguments on this subject only seemed to entrench him further against Ruby. So I went back to the drawing board yet again. If he couldn’t be happy with Ruby, we’d just have to find something else, hopefully something with the same sparkle.
I continued carrying the baby name books with us on car rides. I continued tossing out suggestions while he played Super Mario Brothers Wii. I went through the entire top 1,000 names of 2008 and made a spreadsheet of all the names I would consider, then read the 100 or so off to him – and he rejected every one.
When we went to family events, everyone would ask if we had a name yet, and I became well practiced at my little speech, “No, not yet – between the names I hate and the ones he hates, there don’t seem to be any names left!”
Then one night, I brought the Oxford Dictionary of First Names to bed with us, hoping to browse a little while for names that didn’t make it onto the top 1,000, since apparently we couldn’t agree on any of those. Two minutes into the A section, and D was already complaining he just wanted to go to sleep.
“No,” I said, “we need to look at this a few minutes. She needs a name!”
D kept grumbling and then two minutes later abruptly switched off the lamp, plunging me and my name book into pitch darkness. Part of me wanted to reach over and beat him about the head with the book, but the hormonal part won, and I rolled over and started crying.
Through sniffles, I told him how I’d always dreamed of naming a child, and how it had seemed for so long that I would never get that chance, and now here it was and I couldn’t even enjoy it. I told him I was just as sick of talking about it as he was, sick of having to push and push him, sick of the frustration. I just wanted it settled, and there was no way to settle it without his help. I told him how he was acting so put-upon when I was the one having to do ALL the work, and he didn’t even have any suggestions, ,couldn’t have any because he hadn’t cracked a name book yet.
He was silent for a few minutes, and then tentatively threw out a couple of quite terrible name suggestions. I won’t tell you what they were, for fear of offending people with those names, but they were nothing I would ever, ever consider naming a child born in 2010 (maybe if this was 1979 … eh, still no). The very fact that he would suggest such names made it clear to me he has no clue what he wants; they were just the first names that popped into his head. And yet all my carefully thought-out suggestions weren’t good enough?
I tried to be polite but mostly didn’t say anything and kept leaking tears onto my pillow. Finally, D quietly said, “Do you really want to name her Ruby?”
I said, “That’s not what this is about. I do want to name her Ruby, but I want you to be happy, too. So if you really don’t like Ruby, I need your help coming up with something better.”
I fell asleep to the sound of the wheels turning in his brain, and the next day when he called me from work, he said, “I guess we can name her Ruby. But we just have to come up with a really good middle name.” Eagerly, I agreed.
Then a couple of days later, I left for my annual business trip to Houston, and while there I started freaking out that Ruby is too popular. It has been steadily climbing the charts for the past few years and is poised to get even more popular. In some parts of the country (the West Coast, in particular), it’s already reached near-epidemic proportions, and it’s super popular in the U.K., Australia, and Canada. Terrified it would turn into the next Kristin, I scoured the internet for more ideas, but ultimately, Ruby was still the only one that captured that special something. And I comforted myself with the theory that it will take longer to get popular again in the South because it stayed popular here longer the first time around.
By the time I got home, I was settled on Ruby again, and D seemed perfectly content with it, too. He took to referring to the baby as Ruby even before I did, and we got back to our usual life, with no naming strife to muck things up.
Well, almost no naming strife. There was still the middle name to consider. I tried to come up with something from D’s family, since he was so generous with the first name, but Mary and Nancy sounded pretty awful with Ruby, and his mother’s name created the charming initials R.A.W., perfect if you want your daughter to become a future porn or wrestling star.
D no longer liked Imogene, which would’ve been after him. He suggested Caroline, after my mother, but I thought that might really be pushing our luck with his mom. And Caroline is a popular name, which worried me if Ruby continued taking off.
Then one day, while we were relaxing with the dog Millie on the sofa, one of us – and I really can’t remember who – said, “It’s too bad Millie’s middle name is Frances. That would be a good one for Ruby.” Especially since it’s the feminine form of Frank, my late grandfather’s name.
We started discussing whether we could change Millie’s name to something else and use Frances after all. We do call her by her full name quite a lot, or even just Francie sometimes. But we call her so many names – Psycho, Big Girl, Big Earl (because it sounds kinda like Big Girl), Crazytown, etc. – that she wouldn’t miss one or two. We brainstormed for all of one minute and decided we could change her middle name to Pearl. It’s so easy with the pets!
Still, we mulled over the Frances question for a couple of days, and then, somehow, it was just decided, so easily.
We told his family, who had no reaction whatsoever. Better than a negative reaction, though, and I never expected our name style to mesh with theirs anyway, based on their suggestions. And D seemed so proud and pleased when he announced it that it erased the last of my guilt about getting my way on the name.
Meanwhile, my family seemed very pleased, especially my grandmother. Papaw died last April, not unexpectedly, and yet it’s still hitting us all hard. I still can’t think of him without crying, and it’s hard to imagine Ruby will never know him. I wish she could have the time with him I did.
But she will have her own grandparents, who I’m sure she will love as madly as I loved him. And I will tell her about my papaw, and how special he was to me, and – I hope – she will understand how special she is to us, that we gave her his name.