I went to my cousin’s daughter’s baby shower last week. It is all so exciting being that the baby is the first grandchild and great-grandchild of this family line. It was a lovely event filled with happy expectations, well-wishing, and love. The afternoon was filled with “oohs” and “ahhs” and retold birthing and naming stories. Not caring for gory details at the table, I opted to hone in on naming stories.
Naming a baby is, in my mind, a big first decision for new parents. The child will be known by that chosen name forever. When expecting my daughters, my husband and I wrestled with names. The vowels, syllables, and consonants needed to blend easily. That sequence of sounds will be uttered uncountable times.
We did not want a name that was difficult to spell and had a variety of nick-name options. Throughout my life, my name, Antoinette, had been shorten to Ann, Annie, and Toni, and mispronounced (it is /ant tah net/—the Brooklyn version, not /an twa net/ ). I mastered the spelling by second grade.
We wanted names that were unique (not crazy unique) since the surname was so common. There were a lot of Ryan and Ava Martins around.
The names also had fit a sweet child but also look impressive when it was listed on a masthead or professional journal or painted on the door of CEO’s office. We had expectations.
The names needed to be meaningful. Many cultures dictate how babies are named. In many Italian families, like mine, first-born sons receive the paternal father’s name, the second son carries the maternal father name, and the third boy is the junior to his father. Girls are similarly named from the maternal lineage. Consequently, families are overpopulated with Johnnys, Billys, Marias, and Christinas. My husband and I decided that we would not have enough children to satisfy everyone, so we would not even consider giving our babies family first names. We went with meaningful “here and now” names.
My second daughter’s name, Hallie, means “thinking of the sea” which was appropriate since I spend most of that hot summer sitting in the shallows of the shore, much like a beached whale. My youngest was named after my father-in-law, who passed away before the baby was born. His name was Robert, but naming a baby girl Roberta was tough and doomed to the nick-name saga. We gave her the fun name, Robyn, and substituted /i/ with a /y/ just to be a little unique.
The greatest naming lesson we learned as new parents occurred with our first daughter. While pregnant with this baby, both my husband and I truly believed we were having a boy. Back in 1983, the one sonogram was at 20 weeks. It was new and fuzzy technology. We went on our gut feelings and had only one boy name prepared and a vague list of four to five girl names.
Our beautiful baby girl arrived perfect in every way, but we were stumped on the name. Within a few hours,, a barrage of brand new grandparents, a great-grandmother, and aunts had strong suggestions. “She looks like a Catherine,” “Jesse fits her best.” “Don’t you like Helen? It’s classic.”
By day two, a sweet nun came to my bedside. My baby slept contently in my arms as the nun gave her a blessing.
“Dear, you look so happy with your baby,” she said. It was true. I never felt such happiness.
The nun continued, “We, the staff, were wondering when the adopting parents were coming?”
I sputtered. I held my baby in a Mama Bear grip and told her she is NOT up for adoption.
“Then why doesn’t she have a name?” asked the nun calmly.
“We can’t agree on a name, but I will name her now!” I replied. The nun handed me the birth certificate paperwork which I filled out with one hand. I did not want to give my baby to this woman. Once completed, I called my husband.
“Our daughter’s name is Sara Antoinette Martin,” I announced, “I left off the /h/ so it’s a little unique.”
Lesson learned—name your baby before you announce her arrival. It did take Sara awhile to spell her middle name correctly.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.