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.