4.12.2011

Name that baby.

The mountain man and I struggled for months to find the perfect name for our baby. I like unusual names, he is a traditionalist. We wanted to name the baby after our grandmothers. My favorite name was shared by one family pet.

We settled on something else. We liked it. It was great.

But we still called our soon-to-be baby by her prenatal nickname, “Blasty”.
And she was born, and it was so strange to write the name we had chosen on her birth certificate, and to make that link between representative word and being.

But it was her. That was her name.

We took that baby girl home and took care of her. We introduced her to her family. Everyone hugged her and held her and snuggled her. Everyone called her by name, and it sounded so bizarre. Somehow my ears felt grated, heard it as wrong. The word was right, it just seemed wrong to use it.

Although I had chosen this name, talked about it and thought about it and agonized and argued over it, I couldn’t use it. I couldn’t call my baby by the name I gave her. It sounded too strange, awkward, unreal.

Then the first piece of mail came with her name on it - her social security card. Unreal again. This tiny creature, this lump of baby, has a name, has a word, and it was official. There was now a number associated with it all. I stared at that envelope thinking about how strange that now it wasn’t just me and the Mountain Man who knew about her name, but the whole government as well.

I still couldn’t call her by name. Even after agonizing for months about choosing the right one. And we had - when she was born, the name seemed great. But I couldn’t use it out loud.

It was like tempting fate.

I felt like if I used her name, it would make it more real, make her more real, and then if something happened, it would be too much. If it’s named, it’s more of a loss. This baby who I carried and fed and held and named would be gone. It was self-preservation, perhaps.

So I called her “Baby Girl”. Or when she was wrapped up in her swaddle at night she was “Baby Burrito”. If she fussed, she was “Baby Burrito with Way Too Much Hot Sauce”.

I realized that it was socially weird that I wasn’t calling my baby by name. So I started doing it, but only when we were home alone. I had to try it out privately. I whispered it awkwardly. It felt too strange to practice it in front of other people. I had to get used to my own voice, the name coming from my mouth, without others hearing it.

And then I started thinking about naming rituals. A lot of cultures don’t name their babies until they’ve passed some critical point, usually about a month old. Some occur days after birth, others happen months or even years later. There’s a ritual, a celebration, a day marking this change.

It was hard to see that little baby as a real person before she started having some behaviors that remind us of adults. The Mountain Man always says that she seems “almost human” when she does something that reminds him of adult mannerisms. During that first month, there isn’t a lot going on to remind us that this baby is a little person - human. Named.

And of course it now seems so strange that I once struggled with associating her name with her being. Now they are connected, inseparably. She and her name exist as one. But at the beginning it felt awkward, uncertain, too risky to say it out loud to her. And then, when she was about a month old, it just made sense.

2 comments:

  1. The name game. I totally agree with what you said. When we went to the pediatrician's office with out first son when he was only 4 days old, it seemed so strange to write his little name there on the sign-in sheet. Now that he is 7 years old, I can't imagine calling him anything else (well, "whiny" sometimes, but that is a comment for another day).
    Love your blog!!
    Best,
    MOV

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  2. it was such a strange thing, and felt awkward and false for this baby to have a name! i could tell people what her name was but couldn't call her that name. when mail came with her name on it, it was the strangest thing ever. the only thing that even compares is when i got married and changed my name and it felt like my "pretend" name. but it was fun and elicited giggles and "my name is N, no it' R, no wait..." moments of hilarity. the baby thing is just weird. i think the 1-month naming ritual cultures are onto something.

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