MomTalk: The Name Game: How Did Your Children Get Their Names?

Naming a child is one of the biggest tasks a parent will undertake. How did you come up with your child's name?

Note from the Wakefield Moms:
Before we start our article this week the Patch Mama’s would like to welcome our newest member: Melissa Schools. Melissa is mom to four boys and is expecting child number 5 this fall. Melissa is an amazing person, and we are sure you are all going to enjoy getting to know her. Welcome Melissa!

Did you know there was a middle name pride week? Did you know according to the Greek Orthodox tradition, nearly every day of the year is dedicated to a Christian saint or Martyr? When someone is named after one of those saints, that day becomes their "name day" and, traditionally, is celebrated. Names are a pretty big deal.

Join in for a discussion about how Wakefield Moms picked out names for their children, and share your own stories in the comments below.

Melissa Schools
When my Nanna was living with us during the last few years of her life, I learned a lot about her and about my dad’s family than I ever had in the many years of her independent life. One of my favorite stories she told (well, aside from the one about my dad being conceived on a motorcycle trip through the White Mountains, or the one where my long-divorced great-grandmother chased a man-friend around a car with a double-bladed axe upon realization that he’d been unfaithful, or the one where...oh, never mind) was the story of how long it took for my father to get his name. My Nanna and Grandpa Pete just couldn’t agree on a name. Hours, days, WEEKS went by, such that the mailman took to asking when he delivered mail, “Didya name that kid yet??”

Finally, my grandparents came to an agreement and ended up naming my father a name some relative already had. All that waiting and the name “Burton" (“With a ‘u’!”) Beverly was under their noses all the time.

When it came to our children, we wanted to give our kids names that had weight! Meaning! History! Beauty! Flow! Style! We wanted them to be able to look to their names’ meanings for encouragement and inspiration. We wanted the stories of their namesakes to have interest and to challenge them to greatness. Being Catholic, we preferred saints’ names. (I’m still a little put out about being the ONLY kid in a family of eight that doesn’t bear a saint’s name, neither first, nor middle.) We also wanted to allow ourselves to give them one unusual name and one very standard name in case they were embarrassed by one or the other when they were grown. That way, by our flawed logic, they could simply stop being mad at us and start going by the name they didn’t despise.

All the above criteria could be a tall order to fill in finding the right name for our kids, but, hey, we had nine months to figure it out and research, right?

Our first son is named Anselm Peter; Anselm for the 11th century, humble Italian saint who became a great theologian and philosopher and Peter for the strong, fiery, flawed and ultimately fiercely loyal man who became the first leader of the Christian Church. It turns out that the name had family meaning, too. Upon hearing his name, my mother’s oldest sister, Helen, said in her sweet Polish accent, “Ah, Ahn-zelm! Dat was your uncle’s name! Of course, he would deny it- he only remembers being called ‘Alson,’ but dat was de name dat the Social Security office gave him when they couldn’t understand ‘Anselm.’” And “Pete” was the nickname my grandfather, Sheridan, went by, for whatever reason.

Had he been a girl, Anselm would have been named, “Gemma Rafaela.” Anselm thankfully obliged his mama, by refusing to be born on Easter, thus avoiding being named “Pasquale” by his father.

I was SO SURE my second child was a girl, owing to pregnancy symptoms and fetal behaviors being exactly the opposite of those of my first pregnancy. Marta Lucia was the name I favored until just a week before she was born, when I decided Gabriella was a better fit. No matter: when my husband caught (um, literally) our second child, he said, “We have a Sammy!”

Samuel Rocco was a name my husband suggested, which I agreed was a great name. I love the story of young Samuel, before he was a prophet, being so ready to listen and help. “Here I am, Lord. Your servant is listening.” Samuel also happens to be the name of my maternal great-grandfather, according to Aunt Helen. St. Rocco is actually a french saint, but is so beloved by the Italians, that you’d never know it. St. Rocco was a nobleman by birth, but ended up giving his wealth to the poor and made his way to Rome. He devoted himself to caring for the plague victims he found in several cities along the way until he finally contracted the disease himself, whereupon he went off by himself. St. Rocco is always pictured with the faithful dog who, legend has it, brought St. Rocco food and licked his wounds until he recovered from the plague.

Our third son, Leo, is named after St. Leo the Great. Leo the Great is perhaps best known for his eloquence such that in 452, he persuaded Attila the Hun himself to turn back from his intended invasion of Italy. Legend has it that Attila was further persuaded by the terrifying vision of Saints Peter and Paul behind Leo during the negotiations. Leo’s middle name is Benjamin, after his father, and he is our only child who got a bonus middle name- Casimir- because Leo’s birthday is on the feast of St. Casimir. I also had a nice Uncle Leon, so I like to include him in the name’s significance.

Our fourth son we named Bruno Joseph. Bruno is a name that my husband claims I rejected when he suggested it for child #3. I only know that it seemed perfect to me for #4. My husband’s aunt, who still hadn’t gotten used to the name “Anselm,” exclaimed, “Bruno?! Bruno?! But, but, but, that’s a DOG’S name!” I recall drawing myself up very straight and saying in my haughtiest tone, “I will have you know that St. Bruno was the founder of the Carthusian Order!” Apparently, St. Bruno felt that the Trappists were too loosey-goosey (my term, not his) for him, so he left to form his own order. The Carthusians are known for their main location in Chartreuse, France, where they make a liquor by the same name that immediately belies the origins of the color chartreuse. That stuff is pretty tasty with orange juice! But I digress...

Joseph just seemed to fit and flow as a middle name, and it didn’t hurt that our parish church is named St. Joseph’s, or that St. Joseph himself was a good stepdad to Jesus.

Now, all we have to do is come up with names for #5. We don’t know if it’s a boy or girl yet, but we’ve got six months to decide. Suggestions welcome!

Laurie Hunt
We knew if we had a boy he would be Keith Jr.  If we ever had two sons I wanted either an Austin Cederic, after my Grandfather, or Fintin Michael – love the name Fintin and Michael is my father.  

For girls there were a few names I liked.  The first, well as much as I liked it I thought that it may not be the best name for a kid growing up in this day and age, it is my Grandmother’s name, Olga, and I have always loved that name.  I also always wanted a Rebecca – a Becky actually.  As a child I had a doll I called Becky.  Funny thing is my husband always liked the name Rebecca too so that was easy.  Rebecca’s middle name is Lynn – the reason is a beautiful country song called “Rebecca Lynn”.  Listen to it here on Youtube - it is, seriously, so beautiful!  The lyrics can be found here.  

The other girl name I loved was Samantha; I love nicknames so I imagined having a Sam or a Sammy. Well, we ended up deciding Rebecca could name her new little sister and she chose Jessie… after Jessie in Toy Story.  (I am grateful we didn’t end up with a little Buzz Lighyear!)  In all seriousness, we loved the name Jessie, loved Jessica.  We picked Lee for a middle name; it was my mother’s middle name.

Jillian Sallee
You don’t start the parenting ride with an easy task. Naming your child is daunting and exciting and it’s a decision your child has to live with for their whole lives. It’s the first major decision most parents will make, barring any medical decisions of course.  Some parents make the name decision months before the baby is even born but we decided we wanted to see all our kids before we decided on a name.  My husband and I had a short list of names we agreed on and then once we saw the kiddos we made our decisions.  Our first name list was kind of random names we liked, but we both wanted the middle names of our kids to be family names.  So we started with some parameters.   

Finding out our first born was going to be a boy was exciting for both of us.  Neither of us cared about the sex either way but for me, I thought it would be nice to have an oldest boy to take care of his younger siblings (if we were so blessed in the future).  Of course, the middle girl turned out to be the tough cookie, but at the time, that was neither here nor there! Throughout my whole pregnancy I was obsessed with the name Sylvester.  I was a big Sly Stallone fan growing up and for whatever reason, I just loved the name.  I could imagine have a little Sly boy running around and no one could dissuade me.  People made fun of me for the name, it was in the books under the lists “Names not to name your child.”  Still, I just knew it could work.  Just in case, my husband made me make another list that we could agree on names like Jackson, Ryan, and Will.  I humored him and into the delivery room we went!  When my son was delivered, in my mind I thought “Ryan” and a few hours later, when Tom and I were alone, I asked him what he thought.  We were both a little shy about it, making such a big decision after such an emotional event was a bit scary, but Tom said that when he was born, the name “Ryan” had popped into his head and the decision was made.  Tom generously offered to make the middle name Sylvester but at that point, it just didn’t fit in.  We had a little boy Ryan in our life already that we loved so the name had some special meaning.  We decided on the full name Ryan Scott, with the Scott after my awesome dad.  Our name wasn’t trendy but we loved it and we love our little boy.

Being pregnant the second time brought us into the world of little girl names.  To me, this was infinitely harder.  There seemed to be so many cool names and Tom and I couldn’t agree on ANY!  If I loved it, he said he had a girl in his class that was a troublemaker.  If he loved it, I thought it was old fashioned and boring.  We made a short list again, but it wasn’t solid.  We ‘kind of’ agreed on 4 or so names.  Honestly, it was basically my list that Tom was ok with, but since I was carrying the child and taking care of a toddler, my list was THE list, understood?  Names on the list, Angelina (Annie), Rosie, Lily.  My beautiful baby girl was delivered and for some reason, the name Lily just seemed right to me.  Tom and I are both huge Harry Potter fans, and our Lily was not named after Lily Potter, but let’s just say it influenced our decision.  Her full name is Lily Frances, the Frances is my maternal grandmother’s name.  My Nonnie and I were very close and I was so happy to be able to honor her and my mom in this way.  Again, we made a name choice that was not too different but it was meaningful to Tom and I on a few different levels. 

Our last baby is a girl as well and as we went back to look over our girl names, some of them did not seem like they were right for us anymore, funny how that is!  We had similar name fights that we had during my pregnancy with Lily, but this time I knew I wanted the middle name to be Teresa so we needed a name that sounded right with that.  My great aunt Teya (Teresa) was at the end of her 99 years and our whole family was close to this amazing woman.  My Teya loved our kids and it was important to me to share her name with my baby girl. After our youngest daughter was born, Tom and I took the longest time yet deciding on our name.  We took so long, the picture of our daughter went out to family and friends before her name and people were starting to ask what was going on!  At the time of her birth, Tom and I were hooked on the TV show Lost.  There was a beautiful doctor on the show named Juliet, and I really loved the name.  Tom was worried that it was a fancy name and what if the baby wasn’t “fancy”?  He also worried that people would have comments about Romeo and Juliet and I thought there was nothing wrong with being associated with a literary character and even if she wasn’t “fancy” she would make it her own.  It was decided and Juliet Teresa was named.  Of course as soon as the doctor came in to check our little muffin, he immediately asked where her Romeo was and I almost choked him!  

I love our children’s names.  I see celebrities naming their kids these crazy names and I hope they do not regret their choices.  We have no name regret at all but just for the record, if you know Ryan and his personality at all, he would have made a perfect Sly. 

Regina Martine
I didn’t know if I was having boys or girls when I was pregnant, but I have a theory about picking baby names. When I was pregnant with my daughters, I had no trouble picking girls names, but when I was pregnant with my son, I couldn’t think of a single girl name, but settled on a boy name right away. I thought I was having another girl, but I guess on some level, I knew I was having a boy, and that is why I chose the name so easily.

My daughters’ names were chosen for no other reason than my husband and I liked the names. During my first pregnancy, we bantered about names for a while and settled on Molly, Elise, and Julia. Our boy’s name was Jackson—but that never felt “right.” When our daughter was born, we named her Molly Elise. Before I was even pregnant with my second child, we had decided on Aimee Celeste. Our boy’s name this time was Nathaniel (Six Feet Under was still on at the time) but that never felt quite right either.

Before I was pregnant with my son, I said at some point, probably out of nowhere … “I like James for a boy’s name.” We always knew that our boy’s middle name would be Patrick. My grandfather’s name was Patrick, as was my husband’s grandfather. My husband’s middle name is Patrick, as is his father’s. So James Patrick it was—except I still thought I was having a girl. We could not decide on a girl’s name even after exhaustive searches of those “most popular name” lists that they have online. We wanted a name that was not too common, but not so uncommon that it might be strange or awkward to grow up with. We eventually settled on Ella Therese— mostly because it seemed to fit with our other two girls’ names. When our baby boy was born, I was shocked at first, but I knew what to name him right away.

Now that they are older, I love their names. I love that they don’t have nicknames, they are simply Molly, Aimee, and James. I know they all have the right names for them. I have never second-guessed the names I chose for them. They all simply are who they are, as if I had known their names all along.

Tasha Schlake Festel
When it came to my children, I knew one thing for sure: I did not want to bring another Asswipe into the world.

Delivery Guy: I’ve got a telegram for Mr. & Mrs. Asswipe Johnson.

Husband: Uh.. listen.. that's "Os-wee-pay".

[Saturday Night Live, September 1992, starring Nicholas Cage as Asswipe]

While the skit is absurd – and absurdly funny – the message is clear. Be careful what you pick! You are hanging a moniker on your child forever. That moniker can either be a badge of honor or an albatross. Think of all the ridiculous celebrity baby names you hear, like Blue Ivy and Pilot Inspektor. That’s a whole lotta name for a kid to live up to. And if they weren’t celebrities, how would those names look at the top of a résumé? (However, I must confess that I love the name Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin chose for their daughter. Apple Martin. How freakin’ cute is that?)

Names are a big deal. As soon as I found out I was pregnant with my daughter I started compiling our list. I always kept it with me and would add several names to it every day. Every week or so, I’d review the names with my husband and he’d veto just about every one of them. By the time my due date rolled around, there were only about 10 names left on the list from a possible 200 or more. (Yes, I really came up with at least 200 names.)

We decided to go in to the hospital with 5 possible first names paired with their pre-assigned middle names, and pick the right set after we met our daughter. As I recall, our names were Amelia June, Hailey Celia, Addison June, Anya Margaret, and Celia June. I was pretty sure I knew which one was going to be the winner, but when I met her, Hailey Celia was all wrong. My husband thought her name was Amelia June, and I thought I might agree. I let myself try it out on her, and it sounded like it could work. Then he called her “Amy” for short. I cringed. She was definitely not an Amy, and if he was going to call her that, then I wasn’t naming her Amelia, thankyouverymuch. We tried out the name Addison June. It sounded a little funny at first, like such a big name for a baby. But after saying it to her a few times, we knew it was right. Addison June Schlake Festel would change our lives and the world forever. 

I thought the boys’ names were a lot harder. And they weren’t nearly as much fun. However, I went about it in the same way: brainstorm, list, review, edit, repeat. Again, we narrowed the list to the 5 choices we would take to the hospital. They were Ian Tuffield, Owen Henry, Reid Tuffield, Henry Donald, and Jonathan Tuffield. Even before I met him, I was pretty sure I was coming home with Reid Tuffield. And I did. But at first, it sounded so formal and Presidential. I worried that it would be stuffy and aloof. Just to be safe, we went through a few other names in the hospital before we agreed. We even went off the list for the name we almost bestowed upon him, August. That’s my husband’s middle name and I was inexplicably taken with calling that sweet little boy Auggie. We decided against it, partially due to possible Asswipe-like consequences, and went with our gut. Like his sister, Reid Tuffield Schlake Festel would also change our lives and the world forever.

Other than being names we liked, our kids’ first names have no special significance. However, they each have 2 middle names that are important to us. Addie’s middle name, June, was the name of my husband’s beloved grandmother who passed away soon after I learned I was pregnant. Reid’s middle name, Tuffield, is a name that’s been in my family for generations. I’ve always thought it was an awesome and unique name and was excited to get a chance to pass it on. They share a second middle name, Schlake. It’s my maiden name and I was not ready to let that name fade with my marriage. I kept it as part of my name and it was important to me to pass it on to my kids. Their names are mouthfuls, for sure, but I think they both like having an extra name. It makes them feel unique, and really, isn’t that what a middle name is supposed to do?

I have no regrets about my kids’ names. I love them both. I was more than a little miffed when a character named Addison was introduced on Grey’s Anatomy. I was sure I would be accused of naming my daughter after a TV doctor. (By the way, this happened in May, 2005, a full 17 months after my Addie was born.) And I knew this would be the end of the uniqueness of it. Oh well. The plus side is now I can find placemats and vanity bike license plates with her name on it at Christmas Tree Shop, something I always wished I could do as a kid. To this day, I challenge you to find something at a store with the name Tasha on it. My son will also have that cross to bear. On the off-chance something is printed with his name, it’s never spelled the same way. Poor kid. I guess he can just add that to the list of reasons I caused him to need therapy.

Looking back, I don’t know why I objected to Amelia being shortened to Amy. It’s a cute and spunky name, just like my cute and spunky daughter. Addie would have been a great Amy. And I’m quite sure Reid would have rocked the name Auggie and no one would have kicked his arse on the playground for it. Funny how things change.

Melissa Schools March 14, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Two comments: first, I will blame "placenta-head" for my writing "belies" instead of "reveals," in my article. The liquor, Chartreuse, is _exactly_ the color of chartreuse-the-color! Second, "Olga" is my mom's middle name, Laurie! She was spared the name as a first name because of the vehement objections of the same Aunt Helen I mentioned in my article! So funny!
Jillian Sallee March 15, 2012 at 12:24 AM
I have to add that when I was pregnant with my last girl, Lily and my super awesome sister-in-law came up with the name Pretzel. This stuck for a really long time...even after she was born we called her PJ for Pretzel Juliet! I even have a onesie courtesy of MSASIL! She is still our little pretzel :)


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