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.
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