When you're pregnant, it can often seem like your body, your baby, your decisions, your life are public domain. Everyone wants to touch your belly. Everyone wants to know what kind of genitalia your baby will be born with. Everyone wants to know how you're feeling and tell you how to feel better. And everyone wants to know your baby's name. In all honesty, I didn't mind the belly rubs as long as people asked first. I talked openly about my brutal morning sickness and intolerable heartburn because if someone asks you how much you throw up in a day, they better be prepared for a gruesome answer. However, when the inevitable question came up, I didn't tell anyone my baby's name because, in the end, and like everything else in pregnancy and childrearing, it was none of their business.
My name is Ceilidhe. Pronounced Kayley. A ceilidh (my parents decided to add an extra "e" on the end) is the Scottish Gaelic word for celebration. Basically, it's a kitchen party and a really good time. But I probably don't have to describe the many, many ways my name has been mispronounced throughout my life ("Clay-da-hey?" "Seal-di-he?" Or my personal favorite: "Katie?"). Nor do I have to list the nicknames I've received (my high school boyfriend and his friends referred to me, only, as "Selda"). And I can't recall the number of times I have said: "The 'd' is silent."
Some people might question my parents' decision to give me this name (and if they did, I hope my parents said it was none of their business), but I can honestly say that I have loved having a unique name my whole life. The number of times my name has been properly spelled on my Starbucks cup is: once. But the sense of individuality, its connection to my family history, the "otherness" of my name holds an unquantifiable quality that I embrace. My name has shaped who I am. It made me, me. With this in mind, I knew that when I had a child of my own I wanted that child to have a unique name. I have nothing against popular names. My partner has the most popular baby boy name from the year he was born. My best friends' names take first and eleventh place for most popular girl names from their birth year. I have simply had a positive experience with a unique name and hope to foster that same sense of individuality in my child.
If you weren't pregnant would it be appropriate for your co-worker question your choice to have a morning coffee? Would someone announce that they hate your name?
Unfortunately, not a lot of people shared my enthusiasm for untraditional nomenclature. Friends and family provided their own suggestions, which we thanked them for and then promptly put in the "maybe" pile (in other words, the thanks-but-no-thanks pile). And when I shared names from my ever evolving list, I received some support but also a lot of laughs, a few patronizing smiles, and — from a person I barely knew — this comment: "You can't name her that." I can appreciate people's excitement about naming a new little human. And I understood that receiving people's unsolicited opinions came with the territory, somewhat. I am even guilty of providing my two cents on a friend's name choices. But that doesn't mean that it didn't irk me every time someone who wasn't my baby's parent vetoed my name choice.
As people found out about her diagnosis, my body, my pregnancy, my baby, and my choices felt even more inspected and dissected than ever before.
It might not seem like a big deal to a non-parent. So what? It's just a baby name. Or some friendly, well-meaning advice. And when a person rubs your bump, it's because they're excited — babies are exciting! But if you weren't pregnant would someone come up to you and rub your belly? If you weren't pregnant would it be appropriate for your co-worker question your choice to have a morning coffee? Would someone announce that they hate your name? Chances are that wouldn't happen to you if you weren't already growing a small human behind your belly button. So, why did people assume that I wanted to hear their opinion on my diet, my clothes? Why do they assume that they, as a member of a vast collective, got a deciding role in things like how I dealt with my morning sickness or what I named my baby?
Modern society tends to view pregnant women as public property. And that can be a good thing: people are always looking for ways to help a pregnant woman. Need something heavy lifted? Look pregnant. Want a second serving? Show the bump. You're never in trouble for being late when you're pregnant. And no one yells at a pregnant person when they accidentally back into your car in a parking lot (I may or may not have done this). But this sense of community can also feel like ownership, and it feels entirely restrictive and judgmental when complete strangers start chiming in on things that are — and always will be — none of their business.
Before my partner and I were able to make a final decision about our baby name, I had a 28-week ultrasound that confirmed my worst fears about my pregnancy. We found out that my daughter would be born without a piece of her brain. Her congenital birth defect, agenesis of the corpus callosum, is a disorder in which the corpus callosum, a structure of nerve fibers in the brain that connect the left and right hemispheres, never formed. Its absence means her brain is unable to send messages back and forth across the hemispheres; this can impair her motor skills, cause developmental and cognitive delays, affect her ability to speak, and more. And as people found out about her diagnosis, my body, my pregnancy, my baby, and my choices felt even more inspected and dissected than ever before.
It might have driven some people crazy, but we didn't care. We were keeping this one thing for ourselves.
Picking our daughter's name felt like something normal we could do while we waited to see if she would be anything but. It was a rite that we wanted to protect, and keep, just for ourselves. And we knew that as soon-to-be new parents, we would be inundated again with advice once our baby arrived. So, when we finally picked a baby name from our list of non-traditional names, we decided to keep it a secret. We didn't tell anyone until she made her arrival. It might have driven some people crazy, but we didn't care. We were keeping this one thing for ourselves.
We picked a name much more unique than even I ever expected. I've truly never met another person with my daughter's name. Her namesake is a character from a book. And her name means hope. We've received many strange looks when we introduce our daughter. Some people make a face while they struggle with pronunciation. We live in a bilingual city, so many anglophones assume the name is French, if not another language. We've been asked, skeptically, if we made it up or why we'd choose a name like that. Usually, I explain the origin of her name. I tell people where it comes from and more importantly, why we chose it: because when we were at the zenith of our despair from our daughter's diagnosis, her name gave us hope. It gave us purpose. It reminded us that through the haze of unsolicited, if not well meaning, opinions, our daughter's name — like her diagnosis, and how we choose to raise her, or how I dressed or what I ate — were no one's business but our own.