Hello. My name is Dina and I am slightly obsessed by names. Monikers, nick-names, tags and labels and everything in-between. (To be fair, I am obsessed with words. I am a word nerd. But this post is about names, so I shall stick to the subject, like a name sticker to its subject…). I am not even talking about the sociolinguistic importance of names and how they are perceived, both by ourselves and by others. It’s too early to delve that deep. I just like names.
According to my mother, the woman who was there at the time, present and mostly conscious, I did not have a name for several days. Back in the olden days, when you could smoke in the hospital, you had to wait until your baby was born to figure out what color balloon to festoon the mailbox with. My parents were so thoroughly convinced I was a boy, they didn’t bother to pick out a girl’s name. I was supposed to be Michael. Why they didn’t just name me Michelle is a mystery, but there you go. In my mother’s version of the story, after 4 nameless days of Baby Girl H, my father came up with Dina Marie. It’s not like there were a lot of girls named Dina walking around, so I’m not sure from what corner of thin air he pulled that one from. It’s never been a very popular name. In fact, it barely makes the top 1000 names on the Social Security name list for the last 50 years (I’ll get to that in a minute). But Dina I was named, and Dina I have stayed. Not Dana, or Diana, or Dinah. Not Tina or Gina or Deanna. Just Dina.
I hated my name growing up. Not because it’s a horrible name, but mostly because I wanted a license plate with my name imprinted upon it and I knew the chances of finding one were nigh on impossible. So lack of a pre-printed door plate or mug or fridge magnet or stickers or any other cheap paraphernalia you find in souvenir shops around the country was enough to traumatize me. That and the fact that despite having only four letters, everyone mispronounced it. Most pronounced it like Dinah. As in Dinah won’t you blow your horn. Just what every little girl dreams of.
Aside: Some of the names I have been obsessed with over the years that I can remember: Lydia, Beryl, Ursula, Piper, Lola, Blue. My sons should thank me that they were a) both boys and b) I was not a tween when I had them. Otherwise they could be walking around with a name like Beryl.
In my graduating class of 198(ahem), there were 4 of the following: Donna, Lisa, Kristen. Despite the brilliance of the movie,there were only 3 Heathers. There were however, seven Cheryls. I grew up in small town New England, there were only 215 or so in my graduating class. I am not going to do the math, but that’s a lot of girls named Cheryl. There was one Dina.
Thing was, by the time I was in high school, the un-popularity of my name suited me. And that’s when you start to wonder what comes first, the child or the name? Do we live up to the pre-conceived ideas of our names or do our names come to reflect the personality we bring to it? (Ok, I lied. A little bit of sociolinguisitics). Not too long after I found out I was pregnant (like a day), I started harassing and haranguing my husband about names. I was a woman obsessed. In those early hormonal days, it became ridiculously important for me to choose just the right name. And that is how the US Social Security website became my very best-est friend during those early days of pregnancy.
The website has a function that allows you to search for the most popular baby names in the US over the last 80 years or so. (Go on, click the link, you know you want to). Remember all those Cheryls in my school? The ones who had to spend their entire childhood going by Cheryl Last Initial? That became qualification number one, nothing in the top 25. Most of the names in the top 20 list are there for a reason, because they are lovely names. In fact, quite a few of them are names that I really, really like. But in my obsessive state, any name in the top 25 was an automatic no-go. Just to be on the safe side, I widened it to the top 100. I wanted something that reflected that us as parents; we aren’t really William or Caroline people, but neither are we Jupiter or Echo people. (We lived in Brooklyn, don’t forget, I’ve heard just about everything).
If you knew me in high school, you would have assumed that I would have named my kids Siouxsie or Morrissey. Or Ursa Major or Cassiopeia. But remember the license name plate. If we gave our children names that were nigh on impossible to find on a ready-made door plate, would they hate me forever? Would they spend hours of their childhood moping about Cape Cod taffy shops and Grand Canyon gift emporiums bemoaning the fact that they could never find anything with their name on it? Probably.
It took us a full 9 months with both kids to find a name. And looking back, I hope my children appreciate that we rejected some of the short list candidates at the last minute. We didn’t know if #1 was a boy or a girl until he was born, but if he had been a girl, he would have been Harper Isobel. I liked the name Harper and I never would have guessed that I would have met about six of them in my Brooklyn neighborhood. He (well, She) would have been Harper H-S in school. Go figure. Son #2 was thisclose to being Fox. I still kind of regret not naming him Fox, because I don’t care what you say, Fox is just an ultra cool name. The problem, we figured, was if we did not have an ultra-cool kid, it would be a hard one to pull off.
In the end, we ended up choosing names that fell smack dab in the middle of the top 1000. Sort of -kind of accidentally. And though it wasn’t a conscious decision, both my son’s names begin with R and both mean the same thing. Kind of weird, but there you go. And so we have been blessed with a Rowan (Anglo/Gaelic from the Rowan tree, an ash tree with red berries; ranked 476 the year of his birth) and a Reed (English/Scottish meaning red-headed, but also a tall river grass; ranked 405 the year of his birth). Nine and five years down the road respectively, I still love their names and hope that they can live up to them. Or that their names will live up to the men they become.
What comes first, the name or the kid? What do you think?