Wednesday, 25 March 2009

What's in a name?

Naming a child is one of the most important decisions a parent ever has to make. Indeed, studies have shown that children with obscure names perform worse at school and are less popular with other classmates. And by the time they reach University they are more likely to drop out or become 'psychoneurotic'. I will, therefore, be forever grateful to my parents for naming me Emily because it is a name which, not for one moment, have I ever disliked (and despite having two children who push me to breaking point on a daily basis, I can safely say that I am not yet psychoneurotic). When it came to naming our own children, I took great pleasure in the decision making process, wanting to choose names which would work in both English and French (my husband is French). But of course, I didn't want them to be too popular and have the poor child be called by both their first and second names for the rest of their lives, or be too obscure that they would have to be repeated two or three times before anyone even understood them. We eventually chose Renée and Edie and, although my Granny took great delight in telling me that she hated them, I have never regretted the decisions, not even for a second.

So when some good friends of ours recently had a baby girl I was interested to know what name they had chosen. For the first few days they were undecided which I found extremely frustrating. Not only could I not imagine having an unnamed child (Edie had been 'baby Edie' since my 5 month scan), but I also wanted to send a congratulatory card and needed to write the name inside. So after a week of no news I sent a text. The text 'conversation' went something like this.

Me: Hope all good and that N is getting some sleep. Any news on the name?
Baby's Dad: All's fine. Yep, N getting some sleep. Have called the baby Helga.
Me: Glad all's good. Not sure whether to believe you about the name or not.
Baby's Dad: Why what's wrong with the name?
Me: Well nothing if you're a 6 foot German shotputter.
Baby's Dad: Helga's actually the name of my late Gran.
Me: Please tell me you're joking or I risk offending you and your baby daughter for the rest of your lives.
Baby's Dad: No offence taken.

End of message. Oops. Call me stupid, but they had named their first child Rory and I explicitly remember them telling us the reason they had chosen it was because it was a good, strong, solid British name. So when I had seen the name 'Helga' texted on my phone, I had assumed they were joking. Well, what can I say? Assumption is the Mother of all Fuckups....

But even after the text I still couldn't quite accept it. I was hoping that it was some elaborate plan to make me look a fool and resisted writing her name in the card, just in case. So when 'Helga's' Father popped by the next day, my first reaction was to ask how 'the baby' was. Not only was I struggling to say her name, but I couldn't even look her Father in the eye. My husband, thankfully was not so reluctant. 'How's Helga?' He enquired. 'Yeah, she's doing well thanks', replied the Father, showing no signs of either stifling a laugh or regretting their decision. So that was it then. This baby had really been called Helga. I would just have to accept it.

But I couldn't. I have no idea why, but I was having a really strange reaction to the name. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to shield the baby from years of bullying and trauma. But more than likely I just didn't like the name. Whatever it was, as my pen was poised over the card, hand shaking, I literally had to force pen to paper to write the words. And this is what they were.

'Congratulations on the birth of baby Helga. We are so happy for you all.'

Nothing too difficult. And then I went into the next room and hand-delivered it.

Helga's Dad: So you don't like our choice of name then?
Me: No. I love it. It's funny, the more you say it, the better it sounds. I'm sorry about the text. It's a really great name. Very original. (I was squirming at this point).
Helga's Dad: Come on Emily. You know us. Do you honestly think we would have called our child Helga?

I couldn't believe it. I have vague memories of swearing at him. A lot.

Me: So what have you called the baby then?
Baby's Dad: Oh we haven't decided on that yet...

For the record, the baby was eventually called Isla. Personally, I much prefer it to Helga. But then again, I was beginning to come round...

Oh yeah, and let's not forget the card which will be forever cherished and pulled out to laugh at. The shame.


  1. ROFL oh what a mean man! Even to the point where you'd had the card written, just goes to show your instincts were indeed correct (of course, us mums know these things. Other Half and I had many um, disagreements (fights) over what to call the kids and we've been through it four times. I hope we have gone for original yet not freaky, they seem to be faring ok so far luv Karen x

  2. TOO FUNNY!! Husband quite seriously wanted to call One 'Boris' for a while (VETO) and a variety of other terrible names. We live in the USA where one of my classmates at school was seriously called LaTrina.
    I kid you not.

  3. Well that was just mean, making you squirm, but also very funny reading about it.
    I knew someone who called her daughter Summer, & she was born on Christmas day - still cannot get my head round it...

  4. Very, very sig. other wanted Clough as in (Brian Clough) to be part of son#1 or 2's middle I once taught a girl who had a sister called Sky-Barbie; very, very original I thought. Teachers have real dialemas about naming their kids,see funny

  5. Imagine yelling out the front door...'Helga - you've forgotten your gym shorts'! Vivid images of big mountain girls with plaits on their heads, being trailed by goats come into the mind. I think he chose well with Isla. Cant mess about with it so much! Besides there's Isla Fisher. Not many Helga Goat-Herders around....

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  7. That is really funny to read, Emily - I am just like you and would have believed them - Hook, line and sinker...

    Almost as good as when I had my late mum convinced that my baby, if a girl, was going to be called Hortense...

    What's wrong with it? It's a nice French name, I'm sure you would agree... In reality she was to be Sara, but Grizz arrived instead. I love your writing and wit.

  8. That's so funny... I did that with my boss... They took weeks (yes weeks!) to choose their boys name and one day when he was out of the office we had a msn conversation and it went like this:
    Me: Hows everything with the baby
    Him: all good thanks... Oh and we have a name!
    Me: tell me, tell me!!!
    Him: Rocky Alfred S*****
    Me: Ah ah funny, what's is real name please?
    Him: that's his real name
    few minutes later
    Me: Oh Alfred is lovely, can't wait to see him...
    Him: Rocky will come to visit you very soon!

    I felt so bad... actually if he ever reads this (we never know!) sorry for my quick, spontenous typing...

    One another note, we too had the same dilemna. We wanted names easy to pronounce in both French and English and not too common in both country. It was very tough!

    BTW I like the name of your little girls they are very sweet.

  9. That's really funny..I would have reacted exactly the same, and squirmed just as much, then realised I was being teased.

  10. Ha ha! My sister in law is a terrible name snob, can't stand anything made up or names that should be second names like Harrison etc. So when we had our son we told her we'd named him Montreal (where we'd lived) Scott (a name she hates). She apparently had a mini fit when she heard the message bless her. By the way, it wasn't true - we'd named him Tom.

  11. I can't believe that name LaTrina, Motherhood the Final Frontier.

    Names are such personal things, that I just smile sweetly and say "that's nice" or "that's sweet", or sometimes "that's unusual" - because if it's really unusual, then I reckon the parents would take that as a compliment.

    The only time I embarrassed myself, was when I was told that a boy's middle name was Athenaceous. I thought that was a joke, and it wasn't. Luckily, the parents didn't mind, as I think they'd deliberately chosen it as something of a joke.

    I bet Helga is one of those old names that is just ripe for a come-back, and then your friends will have the last laugh. I heard of a baby called Audrey recently...

  12. Oh, and we didn't choose a name till after the birth. I always felt (and I know this is a bit silly) that I needed to meet the baby before I named it. I know it's irritating for other people though. It took us 4 days to finally pick our first child's name (we were quicker with the next two), and I recently looked back at the congratulations cards we got, and was amazed how many of them made a jokey reference to the fact that he didn't have a name. Four days seemed to whizz by, for us.

  13. Funnily enough PHM - a friend of mine has a son called Rocky and although I thought it was a bit strange at first, I love it now. Same with most names really - after a while you get used to them and the children become their names.

  14. I just found your blog via someone else's (can't remember who?) and love it!

    I've just recently posted about a girl in the same dance class as my daughter, and her name is Tequila.

  15. We live in Bosnia. One of the boys in my eldest's nursery class is called Denial (Daniel in Bosnian). I laugh everytime I see his coat peg.

  16. NS - loved your post about the name Tequila and everyone else's suggestions for drink related names... What are people thinking when they choose names like that?!

    FM - Denial - I quite like that name!! ;-)

  17. Oh, that's hilarious. I actually don't mind the name Helga and find Isla a bit difficult - how do you pronounce it, even? As Iota said, though, names are very personal; you're never going to please everyone, though hopefully at least pleasing the child will do!

    I can't imagine waiting that long to name them, either. Rosemary was Rosemary from my 20-week scan, as well. In fact, she was Rosemary or XXX (the boy's name will probably be used if this one's a boy, so not mentioning it yet, so as not to jinx it!) from well before then. I found it much easier to bond with her once I knew her name. Then again, I know people who had a name picked out from early in their pregnancy and then, when the baby was born, they realised that the name was completely wrong for the baby.

  18. I recently came across some poor little love who goes by the name of Disney!

    I couldn't believe my ears.

  19. Great story.

    I didn't know that about children with obscure names. Round here (posh area)we have Xavier, Xenon, Tarquin, Azaria and so on. Although with so many of them at least they can't all be bottom of the class.

  20. Tasha - you pronounce Isla 'eye-la'. So you like Helga??? Ha ha. Well maybe I wasn't so crazy then to believe him. I had half convinced myself that the name was ok in the end. I thought maybe if they had grown-up with it (ie Granny was always around) then it was something they had got used to...and then because they'd got used to it, it didn't seem so bad to them.

    BUT, am so glad (for the child of course) that they didn't choose Helga!

    RM - Disney - Oh no!! The poor child...

    Ella - Yeah it's true (or at least that's what the article I read said). But it could be that parents who choose very obscure names are a little unhinged themselves (no offence to anyone) maybe it's ion the genes rather than the name!!!

  21. I might just have murdered them... although I imagine you killed yourself laughing before you had the chance. I can't believe they kept up the facade for so long!

  22. heh heh. I'm with you on this one. I love to send off our congratulations hot on the heels of the birth. But I'm jiggered if I'm, going to send a "Welcome to the World Baby No-Name" card. I'm practically wetting myself if the name remains elusive for any longer than a week...

    We had similar criteria to you when we named our sons as my husband is Dutch. Their names had to be pronouncable and more importatnly not rude. There are one or two which would've elicited far too much phlegm and / or guaranteed blushes when uttered in polite Amsterdam company. Could've gone for Helga I suppose but on balance I don't reckon the boys would've been too chuffed in the longrun

  23. Sparx - yes I did consider it, but I felt slightly embarrassed that I'd been 'had'. The only choice was to laugh...(after swearing).

    Charlotte - I know - 'Congratulations on the birt of baby' just doesn't have the same ring to it. Card has to have a name in it. Ha ha - yes Helga would have worked for you. Best keep it for your next child!!! (Your 4th)!