What’s in a name?
I recently had the opportunity to write an article on 2017 celebrity baby names. Interviewing a baby name expert got me thinking about how names can build an important link to the past.
I am the last Dorothy in my family. I was named for my grandmother and shared a name with my mom’s first cousin, Dorothy, as well. My cousin died of cancer when I was pretty young. My vague recollections include her being very kind and always making me feel special that we shared a name. She was a librarian and encouraged my love for books from a young age.
My name was a bit embarrassing growing up. I heard a lot of “Wizard of Oz” jokes. It was such an “old person” name. Surrounded by a million Jennifers and Jessicas, I felt out of place. Unlike my sister, Maggie, my name didn’t really have a cute nickname that went with it.
And yet, my name always connected me to my grandmother.
She was not the warmest woman. I would end a phone call saying “I love you” and she’d reply “okay.” But I still have very fond memories of summers spent at her home on a lake. We would watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” together and pore over family photo albums. I was fascinated to hear the stories of her family and our ancestry.
Seeing the faces of our family in those old photos made the past come alive for me. I relished hearing the story of how my grandparents met and the various escapades my grandmother and her older sister, Margaret, got up to.
My sister is also a Margaret, making us the third generation of sisters named Dorothy and Margaret. I always thought this was the coolest thing.
We might have had “old lady” names in a sea of Jennifers and Jessicas, but I could always look at my grandmother and great-aunt and my mom’s first cousins and know that we were honoring them by carrying on their names.
When my husband and I finally got pregnant, we both felt strongly about carrying on the tradition of honoring family through middle names (his middle name was for his grandfather). We chose Claire, which means light, as a first name. We loved the name and the meaning was perfect—as she was the light at the end of our infertility struggle.
We chose Margaret as her middle name. The names flow together well and the family connection that is so important to me is very strong. My mother adored her aunt Margaret, who she referred to as Aunt Tippitoes because of the high heels she always wore. She even chose Margaret as her confirmation name in her aunt’s honor.
I was young when Tippitoes died, but one of my favorite childhood memories is eating a special cereal she always used to make me (basically just mixing several brands of cereal together in a big tupperware).
For me, using Margaret was a way to honor my younger sister, Maggie, who I’m very close to. Maggie is Claire’s godmother, further strengthening that familial bond.
The name Margaret is scattered all over my family tree, but it was also my husband’s grandmother’s name, who he was very close with, as well as my mother-in-law’s middle name. It was the perfect name to honor both sides of the family.
Having a second daughter was a challenge. We had a boy’s name picked out from our first pregnancy, but once we knew we were having another girl, we had our work cut out for us. We had to find a name that we loved as much as Claire. The new name had to fit stylistically with Claire, as well.
The family connection came more easily this time. If we had had a boy, his middle name would have been Joseph. Like Margaret, Joseph was a name that is all over our family trees, including my father-in-law’s middle name. But for me, it was the name of my grandfather (Dorothy’s husband).
He also died when I was very young, so I don’t know if the memories I have are true or just my recollection of stories I was told over and over. I remember teaching him how to snap, a challenge since he was deaf in one year. I know that when I was potty training, he would put me in the training toilet and hold my hand while we sat and watched “Sesame Street”.
My mother tells me that one night, she woke up at her parents’ home to find me gone. My grandfather was ill and sleeping in the living room on a hospital bed. I had wandered out there to sit with him and hold his hand.
Since we were having a girl, we chose Josephine as her middle name. Turns out, Josephine was also my great-grandmother’s middle name, which made it even more perfect. My father was very close with his grandmother. I was lucky enough that she lived through the first few years of my life. I treasure a letter than she wrote me when I was first born and an (admittedly creepy) giant Raggedy Ann doll that I still have.
When I was in my second trimester, we finally settled on a first name we both liked: Audrey. Again, meaning was important here. Audrey means “noble strength”. Considering that she was a spontaneous pregnancy after years of infertility treatments to have Claire, strength was the perfect meaning for her.
A name is the first gift you give your child. Some people want very unique names to make their child stand out. Some people want to honor a destination special to them. Some want to use a word name like Prince or Reign. No matter why you choose the name you pick, that name is a reflection of you and your personality.
My husband and I love classic names that sound right in both a nursery school and a nursing home. We also both felt strongly about honoring beloved family members. To this day, I feel that we picked the perfect names for our girls.
While I love their first names, their middle names help build a connection with their family. Right now, we just tell them which living family members they share names with, but when they are older, we will be able to show them our family tree and point out all the places where their names are. We will share the photos and stories that have been passed down to us and preserve the legacy of those that came before us.
I can’t predict the style of names that they will want to use on their own children, but I hope they value the connection to family as much as our parents did and we did.