I am a certifiable name nerd. I am obsessed with names. Names for people, names of cities, flowers, appliances, characters in books. I am similarly fascinated by word etymology of all kinds, but it started with names. I thought I was the only weirdo in the whole world with this affliction until Beyond Jennifer and Jason: The Enlightened Guide to Naming Your Baby was published. (Don’t ask me how I knew about that book long before I had my own kids. I told you: name nerd). The title struck me as so thoroughly right on: there were twelve thousand (or so) Jennifers and Jasons in my cohort and it was time to move on.
Joy of joys, my kindred authors, Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz published an updated version, Beyond Madison and Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now (because name styles evolve, and you must keep up!) and, most recently, Beyond Ava and Aiden. Judging by how many Madisons have little brothers named Aiden (and parents called Jennifer and Jason), it seems the authors are still on their game.
I didn’t even know name obsession was a “thing” but, apparently, I am very much not alone. There are several engaging blogs and websites all about names (yes, there is THAT much to know), and one of the most fun is by the same authors of the “Beyond” series. It’s called, sweetly, Nameberry. I don’t know what that means. But I love it. Important for a website about names!
Although they still don’t have my very own child’s name on there (Hello?!?!?!), Nameberry is still a fun and addicting way to spend your afternoon coffee break. Here are some of the lists you can peruse with a mixture of delight, wistfulness, and shock:
Elizabeth’s International Variations (there are 91!)
A surprisingly rich source of euphonically pleasing names is the Gothic list. Nameberry describes “Gothic” as a combination of horror and romanticism, so not an expected realm to find fresh baby names. But, Nameberry did.
Then, there’s Naming Advice (sibling names, middle names, etc.). This section is handy for people who have actual babies to name.
My own name, Michelle, is proclaimed (rightly) “dated.” A more modern feminine expression of Michael might be “Michaela” (nice!), or (choke) “Makayla.”
Unfortunately, I have no one to blame but myself for this, now “dated,” moniker. I chose it myself. Yes, I named myself, because my parents did not. Unable to decide between Cambria, Caitlin, Noelle and other lovely choices, they simply did not choose. They literally snuck out of the birth center on a Sunday when the head nurse was not on duty, leaving my birth certificate blank. For a year, they were satisfied with Sugar Plum and Muffy Duffin and Sweetie Patoots. As I began to understand and speak the English language, my sensible grandparents put their foot down and insisted I be given a name so I knew what to call myself. Well, that week, they happened to be trying out Rachel. So, that’s what I became, unofficially.
But, by the time a child is a year old, she has an inner identity. You can’t just assign a random set of sounds to her and expect her to suddenly embrace them as her own. By then, I was used to affectionate nicknames, not a formal name. I can remember being three and four years old and just not feeling the name Rachel. It never felt right, never was “my” name. I had an older cousin Michelle and that sounded much more familiar (it was probably the girls’ name I had heard the most, by that time). So, I declared myself to be “Michelle” and stopped responding to anything else. For years. As a preschooler.
By the time first grade rolled around, my mom had realized I was not changing my mind about this. She decided that if we were ever going to change my name, this would be the time, before all the school records got started. On the first day of first grade, I sat with my mom as we got ready to go, memorizing how to spell Michelle (eight letters is a LOT). So, there you have it. My kindergarten picture says Rachel, but all the subsequent ones say Michelle.
That brings us to my drivers license. When I was sixteen, I wanted to get one. A stickler for technicalities, the DMV insisted I have a name to put on the license. They weren’t enthusiastic about my official birth certificate name of “girl, live birth.”
Being pressed for a new legal name, I had the opportunity to choose a middle name as well. Being a ridiculous sixteen-year-old, I was drawn to very flowery names. Nameberry categorizes them as “feminissima.” I chose Stephanie and Kristiana (with a K instead of CH to save a letter!). Nice names individually, but following “Michelle,” they really had no flow. I wanted to become Stephanie Michelle Kristiana since it sounded better in that order, but my mom wouldn’t hear of me becoming S. Michelle (thank goodness). So, rather than lose one of the names, I became Michelle Stephanie Kristiana. It was long and awkward and I eventually stopped being sixteen, and gave up using the “Stephanie.” When I got married, I officially dropped it altogether. Now, I’m Michelle Kristiana. Pretty, but half dated. (Maybe I should start going by the more evergreen Kristiana? Maybe I can afford to add another letter now, and be the timeless Christiana! Anyone? Hello!)
So, you can see, this obsession with names began at birth. Not having a name can do that. The entire world of names is completely open to you. Imagine! If you could choose not just your first, but your middle name(s) as well. I took my time and read about practically every name on earth. And my fourteen children had all been named before my future husband had. Although my naming days are likely behind me, I still love to read about the history, the trends, the names themselves. It’s just a thing.
Now, if I could just figure out what Nameberry means, I think my life would be complete.
If you are a fellow name nerd, also check out the beautiful blog The Name Station for in-depth examinations of name history and image, and Appellation Mountain for some fabulous collections of theme names (Bridesmaids Names, Rock-N-Roll Names, etc.) from a writer who also changed her name.