Baby girl is three weeks old today, which makes it high time for her to get a name! We've been having a hard time making a decision, as our final contenders all seemed to fit. But, after three weeks of delaying and trying out the finalists, and then a couple days of calling her just one of them, we're finally ready to share her name.
(That's not the whole thing, just her first two names.) All of our kids have four names, and they follow the same pattern: a first name of our choosing, a family name, their Scottish clan name, and James's last name. Zoë's second name, Lee, comes from my beloved Uncle Lee, who has been deeply formative in my life. I like thinking that years down the road, when someone asks her about her name, she'll think of him, of my close relationship with him, and be able to tell her own stories about her Great Uncle Lee. =)
I'm guessing you're also wondering about those two little dots, so let me explain them. Actually, the New Yorker explains them best (thanks for the link, Alex!). Basically, the two dots are called a diaeresis and they indicate that the second of two consecutive vowels ought to be pronounced separately from the first vowel. Here's the most important part of that New Yorker link:
Those two dots, often mistaken for an umlaut, are actually a diaeresis (pronounced “die heiresses”; it’s from the Greek for “divide”). The difference is that an umlaut is a German thing that alters the pronunciation of a vowel (Brünnhilde), and often changes the meaning of a word: schon (adv.), already; schön (adj.), beautiful. In the case of a diphthong, the umlaut goes over the first vowel. And it is crucial. A diaeresis goes over the second vowel and indicates that it forms a separate syllable. Most of the English-speaking world finds the diaeresis inessential. Even Fowler, of Fowler’s “Modern English Usage,” says that the diaeresis “is in English an obsolescent symbol.”
We chose to include it primarily because we really like it. We accept that this will lead to lots of misspellings over the years, but we aren't overly concerned with that. We're hoping that, as is the case with friends who also use the diaeresis in their daughter's name (Chloë), she simply likes having the dots in her name.
A friend was curious about our naming process, and thought others might be too, so I'll share the whole story. If you aren't curious, you've got the name, you can stop reading now. 😉
We've actually been thinking about girl names for years. We had a couple picked out that we would have loved to use if we ever had a girl. When I got pregnant this time, we didn't even think of any boy names, despite the fact that we had no idea what the gender was! We would have been really stuck if she'd been a boy. While we've entertained many names in the last few weeks (thanks for all the suggestions), it's really always been down to three names, at least for me: Helen, Ilona, and Iona (James lobbied hard to name her Maud!). They are all traditional names (Helen, "the face that launched a thousand ships"; Ilona, a Hungarian name and the name of James's aunt; and Iona, a traditional Scottish name and the name of a Scottish isle where the veil between this world and the spiritual world is said to be very thin). We were drawn to traditional but uncommon names for all of our kids (August is a traditional European name and Leif is an old Scandinavian name).
One night last week, as we were going over the names again, James suggested Zoë and it sounded great for her. Short, simple, classic (it's Greek for "life"), uncommon but not trendy. After a couple days of trying out names, it just seemed to fit her the best.
We were also hesitant to name her because, well, I hate getting people's reactions to a baby name. I've been very secretive with potential names for all of our babies, primarily because I don't want to hear or see people's negative reactions when we tell them what we're thinking. I mean, you spend hours thinking about this name, you consider hundreds of options, you find a name that actually makes you happy and that you would love to call your baby—and then someone makes a disapproving face when you say it, or "politely" suggests an alternative, or even outright says that they don't like that name.
Here's a tip, people: if someone is open and generous enough to share with you what they're thinking about for a baby name, smile kindly and keep your mouth shut. Period. Unless, of course, you want to gush over it and tell them it's a great name. In fact, that's probably what you should do.
We had an unfortunate experience with negative reactions to one of our boys' names, even after we had officially named him and had the printed birth certificate. The worst thing about the situation was that it had us second-guessing the name we had chosen, which we had loved until that moment. Of course I adore all of our children's names now, and I'm so glad we stuck with what was right for us and our babies. The lesson we learned was to keep our choices secret until we were certain of the name we had chosen, and hope that others would respect our decision.
So that's our story. What's yours? How did you choose your children's names? Have you had the perfect name in mind for years, and now are just waiting for the baby to show up? Did you have the perfect name chosen, and then realized it just wasn't right when you met the baby?
Photos by me and James.
Some thoughts on why I don't ask my kids to smile for pictures, and why I don't look all glamorous in these (or any) photos.
Agreed, secret, don't want other opinions. Only bad comes from outside input to OUR child's name. Like "they" say, if you don't have anything nice, don't say anything at all.
I kept the list for each of our kids with the names we considered. Cool to relook but now they are their names. No other name is right.
Twins were tough for me because I wanted them to relate to each other as well as the other kids. Have to say that I am glad I am done naming people.
You're done naming people? No more additions to the crew?!? 😉
Naming kids is such a personal and sensitive thing, and it's almost shocking how casually people can be dismissive. Good for you for keeping your names close and sticking with you know works for you.
We kept our name choices secret because we didn't know what gender the baby was. We also felt that it would be strange and a little presumptuous to impose a personality on an unborn baby. It made for a few awkward moments when people would directly ask about what names we'd chosen, and having to politely say that we hadn't yet decided. In fact, we had a boys name picked out almost from the moment we got married - Philip Arnold - named after my father and my husband's grandfather, respectively. And we were delighted that we had a boy! It took us a very long time to come up with a potential girls name (to remain secret!) because neither of us liked the other's top names! (The 80s were alive and well in my husband's list!) Months after our son was born, my husband couldn't even remember what girls name we had chosen! As we were living in Paris, France at the time, one additional factor was trying to choose a name that would work well in French and "Southern" - as our family lives in the South of the United States!
I agree with you - it's always been awkward when people ask what names we're thinking about, because I haven't wanted to tell them, but also don't want to lie. Most people are okay if you say, "Oh, I'd rather not say right now." Also like you, one thing that we wanted with our children's names was that they be pronounceable in most languages, at least most European languages. Our names both begin with "J", which is pronounced different in almost every European language, and our names have been so badly mispronounced through our travels (and especially in our current life in Sweden -- almost everyone calls me Judy!). Lucky for you, there's a similarly-pronounced version of Philip pretty much everywhere!
You've done a wonderful job choosing lovely, deeply meaningful names for your children. I can't imagine how anyone could think (much less SAY) otherwise.