How about Matilda?” Hmmm, Tilly … too much like husband Till, but I love it. We can’t agree. “Millie?” Is that a complete name? “How about Charlotte?” There are thousands of Charlottes – well, there are in 2017, anyway. Maybe Lotte, for her half-German heritage.’
This must be a conversation that parents-to-be the world over have in their lounge room, maybe the car. In our case, we were in a lift on the way to the operating theatre for an emergency C-section. I would love to tell you who we were delivering, but the baby (a girl, we were about to discover) didn’t have a name. Yet.
No problem. I had heard that when the baby arrived, we would see its face and we would know – similar to the way love at first sight strikes or how impending rain is announced with the prickle of anticipation on uncovered skin. Like a primal intuition that speaks. Well, I waited for that conversation, that lightbulb moment, for 59 days. (In NSW, parents have a languid 60 days to name their children. In Switzerland, it’s a decisive three.)
Finally, it got to the stage when my husband, who lovingly yet passively said he would support my choice, was about to fly to Germany where he was going to register Nameless (as she was endearingly called). The plane was due to leave in three hours and we were in the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The certificate was being rushed through. The stress level was high. But more than the confusion over the name, which lasted until the final moment, was an incredulity. How, oh how, had this naming saga occurred?
And to a (fairly) sane, decisive, qualified wordsmith no less? Oh, the irony.
‘To put the birth into perspective, I’d been single for most of my late thirties. I was close to signing a pact of acceptance with destiny that no one wins everything. Life would deliver many things: a close family, nurtured friendships, an adventure travel writing career, but not a family of my own.
However, I promised I would give everything away for the one thing that navigates all in my small universe. Love.
So, when I met my partner and we fell pregnant, it was like fate had tapped me on the shoulder to say it was my turn. Nine months later, friends and colleagues watched my first tentative steps as a mother like it was a spectator sport. How would I go swapping crampons and ice axes for nappies? Loved it. Forsaking airline upgrades for spontaneous bus-stop breastfeeds? Enjoyed the challenge. Sleep deprivation? Been training with jetlag for years. ‘
As I immersed myself in the wonderful fairy-floss world of baby bliss, no one could foresee the problem ahead – one that, after six weeks, had me running to a psychologist. The bizarre, irrational problem was that I loved my daughter so much, I couldn’t name her.
The raised eyebrows of those around me said it all: “Four weeks in and your baby doesn’t have a name?” “Can you not name your own child?” “What is your problem?” All good questions, and ones that even the therapist couldn’t answer.
The issue had become so catastrophic, so overwhelming, so tangled, that holding my perfect, divine daughter in the darkness of the 3am feeding witching hour, I’d hope fervently that when we both awoke, it would be the Day of the Name. Allegra? Margaux? Harrietta? I was assured that whatever I called her, she would grow to be her name. Anouk? Arabella? Imogen? The list was long, but nothing seemed right. Adelie? Wilhelmina? Emmeline? Ottilie?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet. Actually, William (No. 2 in McCrindle’s Baby Names Australia 2016 report), probably not. All anyone has to do is look at the current Bogan Baby Name list to know that if you were to call your rose the wonderfully misspelt Summah, Kash or Princ’ess, not only could it be embarrassing, but it is also likely to cement your offspring into a lower socioeconomic bracket and hinder their job prospects and intimate relationships before they give up hope and die in despair, homeless, in a gutter.
That is what happens when your baby grows to be their name.
Baby naming can also be big business. Swiss firm Erfolgswelle, with a history in corporate branding, offers a professional baby naming service, charging $35,000 for the collective wisdom of a group of name developers, historians and legal name experts, who will collectively devote about 100 hours to coming up with the perfect moniker.
CEO Marc Hauser is the first to admit his own name wouldn’t make the cut, as it’s connected to the name of an ancient Roman god of war and has “an aggravating past”. Maybe he should appoint himself to source a new one.
This baby-naming palaver is so important that, depending on which expert you ask, a child’s name can determine everything from their future career success to popularity and spiritual connection. Albert Mehrabian, PhD, author of the Baby Name Report Card: Beneficial and Harmful Baby Names (2002), reported that people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favourably than those with undesirable or unattractive names.
“Accordingly, it behoves parents to discover the impressions that will be generated by the names they select for their children.” No pressure.
My parents never met Dr Mehrabian, but I can attest that my name is the most valuable gift they could have bestowed on me. Felicity, derived from the Latin felicitas (meaning happy or lucky), appears in various forms in Romance languages and makes people smile with its associations (félicitations is congratulations in French, felicitas is happy in Spanish). On my travels, it has often paved the path gently. True, I have been “Flip” on all but formal documents, and that suits me, too. My name is resolutely me. Could I carry out the same service for my daughter?
Meanwhile, we were inching closer to The Name. Months earlier, when I’d asked my ailing Grandma for family names, she’d clutched my hand with brittle fingers and gasped, “Francesca”. Her own middle name. Huzzah! A family name!
But later, when her death certificate arrived, it turned out that Grandma’s middle name was the less exotic Frances. My mother was stunned. The family name wasn’t so family after all.
Finally, we had it. Heidi. It fitted perfectly, because our daughter had been conceived in Heidelberg and had a mountaineer father. We chose Felicity as her middle name in a nod to my parents’ gift to me.
The name sang, it zipped; I could almost see the stars that sank down to dot the letter Is with a flourishing sparkle.
Then, a couple of months ago, I stumbled across one of my old geography exercise books from 1990. I flipped to the last page on which I’d drawn some amateur portraits. Perhaps divinely inspired by geography, they had been named like an international family. There was a French Remy Emmeline. A Scandinavian Saskia. And then, in my loopy 16-year-old scrawl, there she was: Heidi Felicity. From Germany
My blood ran a little cold. Clearly, last year, the earthquake of emotions had sent a ripple deep, deep down to plunder the dark slumber of my inner cortex. In the mining shaft of memories, a stagnant memory slipped out unheeded, forging its way up a long-forgotten synapse, gathering speed to be spewed forth in a lava explosion of new life lying like a wet limpet on the landscape of my conscious mind, presented as a thoroughly shiny, new idea.
Instead, we named her Lotte, from the conversation in the lift, finally, once and for all, two hours before Till’s plane took off. Little German Lotte. Despite the certificate almost being issued with Lotto (a typo). And she has become, indeed, Lotte.
Now we’re pregnant again. Convinced I was carrying a boy, we named him in a single conversation that lasted a New York minute. Except we’ve just found out that he is a she. Yes, she will be arriving to a swaddle monogrammed “Finn Frederick”, but this baby, at least, has a name. Unfortunately (in my view), it’s a popular one, but I think it will suit her to a T. Telling? Never. You’ll just have to wait and see.