Since I announced my pregnancy, I have been inundated with questions from friends and family about the baby. Is it a boy or a girl? Boy. Is your nursery done? Still no. And, the big one, do you have a name picked out?
It’s one thing to have no name at three months pregnant. Quite another when the baby is lying next to you in your hospital room.
I take names seriously. I don’t think there is only one “right” name for each person, I think we are more or less inherently like our names. Words, and names especially, have connotative power that shape our life experience. Over time, we become more like our names, but I also think that our names, especially in childhood, shape our path through the world. So, it was important to me that I choose carefully for our baby.
Having no name was not for lack of trying. Since the first sonogram, my husband and I spent a portion of every day discussing names. Many walks were spent brainstorming lists of serious and not-so-serious names. Some of the names that didn’t make the cut include Admiral, Cedar, Melonie, Nutmeg, Papaya, Watermelonie, and Tartartic.
Once we knew we were having a boy, the baby name books came out and well-meaning family members began peppering us with ideas excavated from ancestors. Orwell, Wilbur, Marshall, Eugene, Kermit. Other relatives pored over the Bible with us, making it difficult to politely turn down ideas. “What about John?” “John was a wonderful apostle … but I don’t think that’s the right name for our baby.”
As the due date approached, we narrowed our list of favorites to four or five. The questions about the name only increased, but I felt no pressure. It would almost certainly be a name off our list, but I would not commit until I saw which of our favorite names fit his face and personality best. Unofficially, I was 99% certain we would name him Elliott. It was the only name both my husband and I liked well.
Our son arrived five weeks early. When I saw him, I was shocked. He looked nothing like I had imagined. My dark-haired husband and I had created a blonde baby, who, in his premature state, looked like a tiny elf. All I knew was that he did not look like an Elliott.
I did not experience the moment of clarity I had expected. We had to inform three dozen doctors and nurses that he had no name and suffer the indignity of him being labeled “baby boy.” The names I had chosen had been imagined for a dark-haired boy, and as I tried them out, they just did not seem to fit.
After eliminating the other options one by one, I realized his name was Kieran. Each time I thought it, I started to cry. I simply knew it was his name. It turns out I did not know his name by which one was right, but by all the names that were wrong. Like a sculptor carving away all the marble that does not belong to their statue, perhaps the act of naming is about carving away all the names that do not fit.