I’ve always stood up for parents’ right to name their children whatever they choose, although admittedly, that stand is hard to maintain sometimes. Still, when your own name has been so controversial within the family your grandparents never, in the thirty-plus years of your life they were alive, called you by it, you get a little defensive.
My name isn’t that unusual — Belinda — although it had fallen off of the Top 2000 list sometime in the 70s. It’s making a bit of a comeback, not surprising given how closely related it is to so many other relatively popular names out there.
(My dad’s theory — although these weren’t his parents — was my grandma in particular was offended by the connection to the 1948 film Johnny Belinda, about a deaf-mute woman named Belinda who was raped and as a result, had a son, Johnny, out of wedlock. Controversial and uncomfortable topics for the time.)
The popularity of names tends to cycle. Growing up, the names “Stella” and “Claire” equaled “old lady” to me. Now they’ve made a comeback. My other grandmother (the one who would call me by name) was christened Anastasia, but sometime after that — possibly around the age of two — her mother began to call her Stella (hence the old lady association for me).
Grandma’s given name was so secret, even her four sons didn’t know it was different until she died, nor did some of her younger siblings. I asked my dad about it, and he thought maybe my great-grandmother (Eva) had been pressured to name her baby one thing, perhaps after a saint, but changed it as soon as she could to something she actually liked.
I like the name Anastasia, and so did my cousin Mark, who named his daughter Ana after our grandmother. Now I prefer his choice over Stella, but it wouldn’t be fair for any of us cousins to run screaming if that’s what he’d named his baby instead, just because we could immediately picture that child in her dotage.
(Let me say here, I think Stella is a pretty name, or I wouldn’t be using it as an example. We all have people we associate with certain names, and no doubt right now there are some saying “hell if I’ll ever name my baby Belinda” because of some nasty babysitter or snippy neighbor. Or you just don’t like it.)
My parents stood by their controversial choice with me, and I’m glad. A year after I was born, my sister Beth arrived. Not Elizabeth, but Beth. My grandparents weren’t too thrilled about that either, yet if you know my sister, she is not an Elizabeth. She is a Beth.
I have a good friend who, when pregnant with her son, had picked out the name Jason. However, when baby boy J arrived, mom & dad looked at him and immediately said, “he’s not a Jason.” A mere 24 hours after his birth, they named him Nathan instead. Now, some of us weren’t sure what the difference between a “Jason” and a “Nathan” would be, but funny thing is, 28 years later, it’s clear they made the right choice.
Controversy isn’t always with unusual names. If I had been a boy (and I was born pre-ultrasound, so gender was a surprise), I was to be named Mark. Lucky for my aunt and uncle I was a girl, because that was the name they’d picked out for their son, born a month after me. However, my other aunt and uncle caused a seismic stir in the family when, a few years later, they named their son Marc. “The potential legal problems…” As you might guess, this was all on my dad’s side of the family, so our last name is the same.
I’ve read studies that show what you name your child affects his or her psyche in ways that can never truly be defined (well, of course, what would the control group be in such a study?) and most parents expecting a child no doubt take that to heart. Still, given all the weird nicknames we come up with for each other over a lifetime, maybe it’s more the way you say it that counts.
There is no right conclusion to make here, except to say, the perfect name doesn’t exist. The right name might, however, and that’s for parents to decide. And unless we’re sincerely asked for our opinion, the rest of us should just keep quiet.
Photo Credit (baby feet) © Zbyszek Nowak — Fotolia.com