December 29, 2006
What's in a name, part deux

Shortly after Olivia was born, I wrote about how we picked her name in part on the belief that it wasn't a trendy choice. That belief turned out to be false, but looking back, I don't think we care any more. We love the name Olivia Rose, and as an extra added bonus, we haven't encountered any other Olivias at Esperanza, as we thought we were going to. All in all, we're very happy with that choice.

Still, all things being equal, we'd rather not run with the crowd. As such, I'm pleased to see that the name we've selected for baby #2 is not in the top ten for 2006. It does appear in the top 100 list, but I can live with that. We're not looking to be pioneers, either. A happy medium works for us.

(No, I'm not going to tell you what it is yet. You'll know when she makes her debut.)

On that note, I've been amused by the debate in this week's Dear Abby about unusual baby names (see here, here, and here for the background). For what it's worth, I side with the MYOB crowd on this one. Among the reasons why we don't disclose our baby names prior to baby arrivals is too many stories from people who told others what they'd be naming their impending progeny only to get a negative reaction. That never seems to be a problem for an already-born child, just for those who are still in utero. I guess maybe these folks think that if the kid isn't here yet, they can change the parents' minds about its name. We'd just as soon not deal with people like that, so we avoid the issue. But for the record, as far as I'm concerned the only acceptable, polite reaction to the disclosure of a forthcoming baby's name is a pleasantry. If you don't like the chosen name, you are cordially invited to lump it. I don't care who you are or what your relationship is to the kid's parents. You have no say in the matter, so keep your criticism to yourself.

This is not to say that I think some names are better choices than others. As my friend Ellen likes to say, if you can't imagine your kid's name (in particular, your daughter's name) on the door of a CEO's office, you might want to explore other options. I'd just never say such a thing out loud to anyone, as it's none of my damn business.

Finally, I just want to say that the chapter on children's names in the book Freakonomics, especially the bit on the brothers named Winner and Loser, is excellent. If you've not yet read the book, consider this a good reason to seek it out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 29, 2006 to See, I do have a life! | TrackBack

Wow, girls names. My wife and I have gone through that torture twice in the past 3 years. Olivia was actually very much in the running for us before we concluded it was too popular and didn't work well in Chile where my wife is from and where we intend to spend several year-long sabaticals while the kids are growing up.

We had a long list of criteria for names. Partly driven perhaps by my lifelong unhappiness/ambivalence about my own name. Among our criteria were the following:

1. Works equally well in both Spanish and English without translation. If we are splitting time between two countries I don't want my kids to continually need to translate their names (e.g. John/Juan, George/Jorge, Charles/Carlos, Michael/Miguel)

2. Works well with our single sylable last name (Lind). That pretty much requires a 2-4 sylable first name. Two one-sylable names sounds pretty harsh and blunt together, especially for girls.

3. Provides good nick-name options, especially if the first name is rather formal. I like the idea of giving my kids a variety of name options so they can find the version that fits their own personality growing up.

4. Catholic saint's names. This is a nod to the mother-in-law to keep peace in the family.

5. Not too popular or too obscure. I like names that sound like actual people names, not the Paris, London, Dakota stuff.

6. Names that are all a relatively similar style among siblings. We didn't want one kid to have a pretty flowery name and another to have a plain simple name.

We were all ready for a boy who would have been Benjamin Alvarez Lind using my wife's maiden name as a middle name. But alas, no boys.

So what did we come up with?

Daughter #1 whom my wife had before we met is named Valentina. She was born in Chile where that is a quite popular name.

Daughter #2, who is 3 and was born in Alaska was named Catalina Sofia. Catalina is the Spanish version of Catherine. Catalina is also a very old family name in my wife's family so it met with much approval in Chile. About half the time we call her Catie but she really seems to prefer her full name Catalina. When anyone asks her name she always tells them her full formal name, never a nick name. But if she wants as she grows older she has the options of Catie, Cate, Cat, or the Spanish nickname Cata. Or heck, she can use Sofia. They pretty much all work nicely with our last name. The various versions of Catherine/Katharine/Katherine are all quite popular in the US when you add them all together. But they aren't completely trendy, more classic I think. But Catalina is far more obscure. I think it is not popular in Mexico for some reason, although it is a very popular name in Chile, Argentina, and Spain. So that's why you don't meet many Catalinas here in Texas.

Daughter #3 was born this past May. We wanted a name that worked well with Valentina and Catalina. It was really difficult because we really couldn't find one we liked. I actually worked backwards on this one. I came around to really liking the name Maggie, especially after hearing that John Stewart had just named his newborn daughter Maggie Rose Stewart. However we couldn't name her just plain Maggie as that is really still a nickname and doesn't work in Spanish. I don't like Margaret and the Spanish version of Margaret is Margaria which would lead most Americans to think we named her after a Mexican coctail. We finally came around to the idea of naming her Magdalena with the idea of also calling her Maggie. As it turns out, Magdalena is the Spanish version of Madeline. And it is also the German and Swedish version of Madeline. As I have German/Swedish roots it turned out to be a name that was in both my German ancestry and my wife's Spanish ancestry. So Magdalena it was. But what to do with the middle name? We tried really hard to find one that worked well to no avail. Finally google searches led us to the idea of using Ana Magdalena with Magdalena in the middle name slot. Ana Magdalena Bach was JS Bach's wife and many of his pices were dedicated to her. And the young heroine of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's newest novel is Ana Magdalena. So we decided to go with Ana Magdalena after much debate as to whether we wanted the 2-N Germanic version Anna, or the 1-N Latin version Ana. We went with Ana so she wouldn't have to correct the spelling in Chile where everyone will just assume it is Ana. She's still a baby but we mostly call her Maggie or by her full name Ana Magdalena. Never just plain Ana.

By the way, anyone contemplating baby names should really test their full combinations in google to see who else might be out there with your potential name combinations. Good way to avoid potential surprises.

Posted by: Kent from Waco on December 29, 2006 10:26 AM

Well, clearly a baby's name is up to the parents, but methinks it's a rather militant position to so explicitly disinvite any outside opinion on the subject!

I mean, I realize this isn't at quite the same level as deciding whether or not to invade Iraq, but what possible harm could come from hearing others' opinions? In the final analysis, you're perfectly free to ignore them, after all.

Besides, I'm sure you've picked a lovely name. Although, in the (highly unlikely) event you've picked a stinker, I doubt your loyal readers will sit on their hands just because the birth certificate's already been notarized.

It does appear in the top 100 list, but I can live with that. We're not looking to be pioneers, either.

I certainly agree with that position (which is why I'm sure you picked a lovely name). I'm no fan of "trendy" names, but I have to believe that if no one else were picking the same name for their child, there'd probably be a reason.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 30, 2006 9:12 PM

Mathwiz - Maybe I should have been clearer. It's certainly fine to solicit opinions on a baby's name, and if so solicited, it's fine to give an honest opinion. It's the people who offer an opinion merely upon hearing the name whom I scorn.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 31, 2006 10:42 AM