Monday, July 1, 2013

What's in a Name?

I’ve always been a ‘name’ person. I used to scour my elementary school yearbooks and underline all the names that met my approval. I fantasized about rebranding myself as ‘Noelle’ or ‘Alexis’. I doodled my future kids names on my notebooks and made lists from baby name books for potential first and middle combinations. 

So now that Jonathan and I are faced with the all important task of choosing a moniker for our son, you’d think I’d be thrilled. Instead I’m paralyzed with indecision. 

I always thought that my ‘fall-back’ boy name would be ‘Elliot’. It’s lovely. One of those ‘good on paper’ names. That name that could swoop in and save the day if suddenly I was in the hospital with a newborn and my mind was blank. But all of those fall back dreams of a sweet baby boy named Elliot were crushed when Jonathan used his Veto power to shoot it down.  I was flabbergasted. Veto Elliot? Whatever for? His reason? It was the name of an American Idol contestant 7 years ago that Jonathan didn’t like very much. 
I knew those years of making him watch American Idol were going to come back and bite me one day. So with Elliot off the table, we not only had to find the perfect name, but we needed the perfect back up too. Which I thought I found when I started growing really attached to the name ‘Philip’. It was perfect really. Handsome. Regal. Classic. Great meaning (lover of horses!). And the only American Idol association is Phillip Phillips, potentially Jonathan’s all-time favorite contestant. 

So when I made the suggestion, I was super surprised when it was met with a ‘Veto’ from Jonathan. The thing is, one of our close friends is not only named Philip, but he shares our last name as well. ‘He goes by Phil!’, I desperately argued. But it was no use. We couldn’t have two Philip P.’s in our circle. The veto was stated. The name was out. 

“Abner?” I suggested. 
"Veto. Too harsh.” (Too harsh???) 
“Veto. Not harsh enough.” 
"Ok there wise guy, what would you suggest?" (Silence.) 

We scoured baby name sites, going alphabetically through the lists, writing down every name that showed any potential. We were left with a list of about 20 names, all of which were perfectly acceptable, but none of which knocked our socks off.  I couldn’t help but think that they all felt a little bit stale. Maybe because I’ve been naming my future children for the past 20+ years, nothing felt fresh anymore. 

But now, we’ve passed the halfway mark in the pregnancy, and the fact that we still refer to our baby boy as ‘baby boy’ seems so impersonal. I’m open to waiting until we meet the little guy before we bestow a name on him, but I’d like to at least get close enough to a decision to test drive a few before he’s born. Plus, the southerner in me wants to start monogramming NOW. 

And since I’m super nosy about other people’s baby naming process, I figured it wouldn’t be fair to keep our thoughts on this issue too close to our chest. Also, I think writing helps me to process and really think through my options, so in this post, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the names high on our list and why they feel both wrong and right to me. 

First, let me tell you what we’re looking for in a name: 

1) Classic and timeless. I want a name that can be found in the history books 200 years ago and one that won’t look too out of place 200 years from now. 

2) Familiar but not too common. Because our last name is super popular, we’d like to find a first name that is a bit less used. Otherwise we might end up with 2 Philip P.’s in our inner circle. Somewhere below the US SSA Top 200 is ideal. 

3) Pleasant sounding. The poet in me has a strong preference for alliteration. I like repeating sounds. Because of the makeup of our last name, I tend to gravitate towards R’s and P’s. It just sounds nice to my ears. 

4) Pertains to Scotland. Since our baby will be born in Aberdeen, we’d like for his name to reference this in some way, whether that be a full on Scottish heritage name, or one that just reminds us of our time here in some way. 

4 1/2)  Nickname. A sort of pseudo-preference (at Jonathan's request) is that the name have a shortened nick-name form. This coming from a Jonathan who exclusively went by the full 'Jonathan' until Yours Truly came into his life. When I first called him 'Jon' in front of his family, they were all shocked that he allowed such a thing. But yet, he insists his boy have a nickname. I won't mention that if he had full reign over baby naming duties, our son would be called by the mono-syllabic Graham. Men...

That doesn’t mean that all of the names on our list tick all these boxes. On the contrary, if we ever found one that did, our decision would then become a lot easier. 

1) Harris. Pros: Harris is about as good on paper as they come. He’s not on the US Top 1000  list, and yet his cousins Henry, Harry, and Harrison make him feel totally familiar. Plus, Harris is an island off the western coast of Scotland, making it a beautiful place name referring to the country of our boy’s birth.
 Isle of Harris, photo courtesy of Nary
The Isle of Harris is famous for it's white sand beaches and turquoise waters, along with it's high quality 'Harris Tweed' items. That makes Harris a delightfully preppy pick.

Not to mention that paired with our last name, he sounds like he could be the next president of the United States. Except that he can’t, because he won’t be born there…. 

Cons: The nickname 'Harry'.
It’s too close to our last name which takes the alliteration thing way too far. Is the nickname avoidable? As parents, I think you lack some control over that. Some have suggested ‘Harrison’, so that he’d be more likely to be called ‘Harris’ for short than ‘Harry’. The problem is that Harrison takes the Scottish island reference out of the equation, and I also know 3 boys already with this name.

Also, I feel like the ‘surname’ names are really trendy right now, and since ‘Harris’ doesn’t fall on either of our family trees, it seems a bit phony for us to use. Still, this is a top contender, and Jonathan has taken to referring to the baby as ‘Harris’ from time to time, just to try it on. It always sounds equally strange and thrilling to me. Is our baby a ‘Baby Harris’? Maybe so. 

2)Forest. Pros: I just love ‘Forest’. It’s masculine, yet sensitive all at the same time. It speaks to our love of nature, and subtly refers to our favorite hobby in Scotland: Forest Walks.  
No matter how frustrated I can get with living so far from home, I always feel at peace when we load the dogs up in the car for a trek through the forest. 
This is a word that epitomizes peace and calm to me.

After the popularity of Forrest Gump, this name basically fell of the face of the earth, dropping off of the US Top 1000 list completely. To me, Forrest Gump isn’t a bad connotation at all. In fact, it’s my favorite movie; Tom Hanks- my favorite actor. 
So while Forrest/Forest is classic and timeless, it’s basically going unused by the American public right now. Is this our perfect opportunity to scoop it up for ourselves? It does sound really pretty with our last name. Gotta love those repeated R’s! 

Cons: The spelling issue. Even being uncommon, it’s more frequently spelled ‘Forrest’. However, we like the sleeker look of 'Forest' and how it more literally represents the nature vibe. Still, I don’t want my son to have to go through life correcting the spelling of his name. However, in this day and age of ‘creative’ name spelling, is he doomed to that dilemma no matter what we choose?  

3) Theo. There isn’t that much significance behind this name other than I find it strikingly handsome. Right now Theo sits obscurely at #794 on the American popularity lists, but this number is quite deceptive since it’s a diminutive of the much more popular (197) Theodore. I think it’s safe to say that a good chunk of those Theodore’s are called ‘Theo’ for short. 

It doesn’t tick many of my boxes, but at the same time, there is something visceral in me that is drawn to this name for our little guy. Jonathan likes it too, though he prefers the more formal ‘Theodore’ on the birth certificate. So while it doesn’t tick many of our ‘pros’, there are also very few cons about this name. It’s also pretty common throughout Europe, making it a smart international choice for our global tot. 

4) Ezra. He’s quirky, energetic, cheerful, and downright cool. I love the old school biblical style and the reference to one of our favorite bands, Better than Ezra. 
He fits the classic and timeless requirement, though he has little to do with bonnie Scotland. Also, my favorite athlete of all time, Albert Pujols, chose this name for his little boy which gives it a few bonus points. Today, he just may be my favorite choice on the list. But will he be once October rolls around? 

Cons: This is a name on the move. At 184, it’s the most popular that it’s ever been and has been climbing the charts by leaps and bounds. He stylistically matches the more popular Eli/Elijah so parents might be opting for the more ‘unusual’ biblical option instead. 

5) Andrew. We love this name. It is such a classic, handsome, preppy name. The fact that St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland just adds to our adoration.
St. Andrew, SOURCE
It’s definitely timeless without an ounce of trendy. Plus, you know how I love those names with ‘r’s. 

So what’s the problem? We aren’t the only ones digging Andrew. In fact, he’s the most popular name on our list. At number 18 in the US, naming our kid Andrew might not raise any eyebrows but it may induce a few yawns. And due to the popularity of our last name, we’d surely run across another Andrew P. sooner or later.
Jon and I at St. Andrews Golf Course
Still, there is something intriguing about a benign and innocent name that could easily get lost in a crowd. I grew up with an extremely rare first and last name, so there was no hiding out in anonymity for me. No, my name stuck out all around, a fact that I alternated between loving and hating as I grew up. The final verdict is that I love it, but there were many awkward junior high days where I just wasn’t confident enough to fully pull off ‘Laine’ and I longed to be yet another anonymous Lauren in the crowd. I even insisted I go by my middle name ‘Michelle’ for a long stretch in the middle of it. So while ‘Andrew’ is uncomfortably popular to me, it’s not a complete deal breaker. In fact, it might even add to his charm. 

6)Henry. Oh Henry (sigh).
He's got the right sound, the right style, and he's a classic with plenty of British history to back him up. This is another one of those names that is visceral to me. It’s just so handsome and historic. I love it to death. But so do so many others in my circle. Even though he stands at #43 on the popularity list, he might stand closer to 4 or 5 within our socioeconomic strata. In the 3 weeks since we found out we were having a boy, I’ve since heard of two babies among my facebook friends being named Henry. It’s an epidemic. A beautiful, charming, handsome, swoon-worthy, epidemic.

But you know, it’s just such a lovely name that I almost don’t care. If my sister came to me tomorrow and said, ‘Hey Laine, we’re thinking of naming our boy Henry’, I’m still not sure I’d take it off of our list. I love it that much. Certainly there is enough Henry love out there to share.

Another con, as mentioned with Harris, is the nickname ‘Harry’. The handsome Prince Harry has 'Henry' on his birth certificate.
And while I love the diminutive form (and the royal namesake), the fact that it rhymes with our last name makes it one we have to avoid at all costs. Is that something we can realistically control? I’m just not sure we can. (Our preference is the nickname 'Hank', though Henry in it's full form is quite distinguished and dashing.)

7) Ian. Talk about a good on paper name. It’s quintessentially Scottish. In fact it’s the Scottish version of John/Jon, which is just too perfect for words. If we choose Ian as a first name, the middle will be Nathaniel. Ian Nathaniel will be a subtle nod to his dad Jonathan without being too in your face or narcissistic. So what’s the downside? It’s quite popular, ranking at # 78 on the US charts. And for some reason, for me, Ian only feels right on a brooding dark-haired, blue eyed looker ala’ Ian Somerholder.
Oh yea, he's totally an 'Ian'.
Chances of our baby looking anything like Boone from LOST?: Not likely. 

8) Graham.  Graham has been on our list for a while now. I love his snappy sound, and he sounds great with our last name. This is one of Jonathan's top choices, though he has an inner conflict about 'what we would call him.' Apparently, the fact that Graham is so short that it doesn't provide an intuitive nickname is a major dilemma for him.  I just roll my eyes and insist that it's totally fine to just go by 'Graham'. Plus, Graham has the Scottish representation down pat, so that's a draw as well. It's incredibly popular here.

Honestly, the only negative is that, if Henry is one of the top 5 names in our socioeconomic strata, Graham is certainly in the top 10. I know of several American boys who answer to this name, and since finding out our baby was a boy, I've heard of two more in utero who will be given this name upon their birth. I have a feeling that within our social context, this name is way more popular than where it stands on the SSA list (215).    

9) Wallace. You can't get more Scottish than that.
The William Wallace Monument in Sterling
Jonathan likes that it can be shortened to Wally and I like that it doesn't chart on the US popularity lists. Yet it's still both instantly recognizable and friendly. I guess the only con is that it's another surname-y name that neither of us can draw our family branches to. But Wallace has a long history as a first name, so that's something I can overlook. My only other hesitation is: Is it too Scottish? William Wallace is a folk hero in these parts, made famous world round by the hit movie Braveheart. So using this legend's last name for our son might be a bit 'in your face.'

There are a few other names that come up in conversation from time to time, and I still refuse to totally accept that Elliot and Philip have been vetoed. But I feel like these 9 really represent the bulk of what we're looking at. If you can think of any names that fit our criteria that maybe we have overlooked, please feel free to share. Also, if you're open to sharing, I'd love to hear how you came up with names for your kiddos (or pets) and why they were significant to you.


  1. No one can doubt you have given it a lot of thought, whatever you choose I don't think you will regret it. The wee lad will probably give you some feedback that won't account for all the loving thought you gave this choice. And then he will be proud of it.

  2. Well, I am a little partial to the name Graham as it happens to be the name of our 3 yr. old. And I think you are right, it's popularity does appear to be on the rise. But I also love the name Ian!! I like Elliott, but always thought it made a better girls name. We considered Andrew (we would call him Drew), and I also liked Grant, Colin, Pierson, Courtland, Townsend (would call him Townes. This was my husbands #1, mine not so much), Everett, Sawyer and Grayson. Good luck and don't stress, you will find a name and once he is born you will know he could never be named anything else.

  3. Woh you two really give the name a lot of thought. It must be hard too choose. But maybe when he is born a name just pops up, because it "fits" him. But I understand you don't want to wait for that to happen....:)
    For nicknames, sometimes the nickname becomes something else entirely. My dads name is Roland. (don't know where it came from or what it means) but he's called Rob most of the time. He started it himself because lots of people called him Ronald and he just hated that. Now quess, what my hubbies name is.....Yes Ronald, althought his nickname is Yeti. (long story, its an army thing)
    Good luck finding the right name!

  4. Dang that dad-veto! All my favorite boy names I had dreamed about got shot down by the DV as's not that finding one name is so's finding one name you BOTH love that is really hard. Nothing is more deflating than to proclaim the perfect baby name to your spouse only to hear "meh. it's ok"

    Great research!! I seriously love each one of these names. Can't wait to see what you decide XO

  5. I had the same list of requirements. We found the perfect name for our son (He is 19 years old now, but I love it now as much as I did then) his name is Porter. It was kind of unique, old sounding, masculine and all around perfect for us. To make it even better, he turned out to be left handed (Port side) and so his nickname fit :)

  6. I had slight issues getting pregnant, and every time we found out we were pregnant, I would start thinking about names I loved, and I would have it narrowed down to 1 boy's and 1 girl's name, but then when those pregnancies didn't continue, inexplicably those names wouldn't come up again. When we found out we were having a little boy, it was difficult because we had the perfect girl name picked out, but nothing for a boy. My husband vetoed everything I chose, and spent his time pointing out the funny names in the baby book, instead of telling me what he liked. At about month 8, we had narrowed it down to 3 options: Declan, Collin, and Brayden. Brayden was on their because that was the only name my husband picked that he liked; it was never a real option because I wasn't a fan, and I know at least 3 Brayden's or something similar among my friend's kids. We didn't decide till about 30 minutes after he was born. I never felt that it was a thing where we had to see his face before we knew his name, it was just that once I had the final 3 names, I didn't stress about it. I knew that it would work itself out once we got to the hospital. The middle name was easy, we chose Matthew early on since it went with every conceivable name that we liked.
    I can we why you're having trouble, all of those names are really cute!!