I was always one of those people who just knew I was going to have kids someday. You probably know the type, even when I was extremely young, I was always certain that one of my roles in life would be that of a mom. So naturally, I had a list of baby names at the ready, in my proverbial back pocket. They were listed by rank of how much I really, really needed to use each name. There were a couple of non-negotiable names (Gavin), and lower down on the list names that I’d use if I had more than a couple of children (Rebecca), or if my partner really loved them (Jane). Like so many people, I kept the names I was the most in love with under wraps because I was afraid of them becoming too popular, or worse, getting used by my best friends before I had a chance. I was prepared, and I was certain that once I did have a kid, naming them would be the easy and fun part. I was dead wrong, and it turns out I wasn’t prepared at all.
I watched other people struggle to find the perfect names for their kids, but I was still sure that for me it would be a piece of cake, and no one told me any differently. In reality, figuring out what to name my baby ended up being one of the biggest challenges of my life (excluding labor, which was the worst). If there is one thing to know about naming your baby, it should be that it's absolutely nothing like you think it'll be. Instead, it's so much worse. So I am here to warn you, in case no one else has: Naming babies is really, really hard, everyone, so brace yourself, hug your partner if you have one, and start early because this is going to suck.
The first thing that happened, that totally screwed me up, is that in the decade between making the name list and getting knocked up, somehow my top picks became incredibly popular. I’m not quite self centered enough to believe that the few friends I whispered “Lily or Noah!” to shared them with the whole world and that’s what made them popular, but it did happen. Maybe growing up with similar cultural influences led other Millennials to think the same names were cute and original that I did? Who knows. But as I got close to planning for my family, I looked up name popularity and found out that my two top picks were numbered second and seventh in popularity. I was crushed. I wasn’t obsessed with finding the most unique name out there, but I didn’t want my child to forever be one of three or four kids in his class who shared a first name. Anybody else remember having a Mike P, Mike M, and Mike B in their second grade class? Ugh.
The number one thing that made naming our baby difficult also happened to be the best decision of my life: I got married.
Then, what I wanted out of a baby name had changed and evolved over time. Once upon a time, I had loved biblical names (I even have a cat named “Jonah”), but I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, as a pagan, using a name that had cultural significance in a religion with which I am not a part. Because our culture is so heavily influenced by Christianity, that scrapped a whole lot of names.
But by far, the number one thing that made naming our baby difficult also happened to be the best decision of my life: I got married.
Naming a kid with a partner is completely different, it turns out, than daydreaming about baby names by yourself. Apparently, my wife was an independent human being who had her own independent opinions, and if we were committing to having this baby, and raising it, together (which we absolutely were and are), then we also needed to name the baby together, and that was a huge challenge.
I can tell you from extensive experience that there are few feelings worse than the one you get when you bring up a name you're genuinely excited about and your partner straight up laughs in your face because they assume you’re making a joke.
(This is an image of us having a good time even though we were hopelessly lost in the woods, hours from our camp, without cell phone reception. It turns out making it through that experience was actually easier than naming our kid.)
My wife and I are very similar, and we happen to agree on most things. It's awesome to be with someone who shares your values and has your back, but it also means that, on those occasions when we disagree, it always comes as a shock. To make matters worse, we are both extremely opinionated and just a touch stubborn. So we were surprised that one of us didn’t love the names the other had picked out, and also convinced that we could “win” if we just dug our heels in hard enough. It was a recipe for baby-naming disaster.
As it happens, I am the “traditional” one in our relationship, and I kept bringing names to the table like “James,” which my wife scoffed at as boring. In contrast, many of her suggestions skewed a little too hippie-ish for my tastes, and I found myself ranting that “I do not want to be the kind of person who has a kid named 'Rainbow' or 'Sunbeam' or whatever!” (No, those were not her real suggestions). We went around and around in terrible circles for months. I can tell you from extensive experience that there are few feelings worse than the one you get when you bring up a name you're genuinely excited about and your partner straight up laughs in your face because they assume you’re making a joke.
That happened. To both of us. Multiple times.
Then there was the matter of middle names. I felt like the full name had to have a certain flow to it (“they can’t all be two syllables that will sound bad!”) whereas my spouse was of the opinion that the underlying meaning of each name was probably more important than the sound. So we fought, we cried, we spent hours staring at each other in disbelief, and we dropped the subject for weeks at a time. We had long text-message discussions that read like, “what about these five names?” followed by “no, no, no, maybe, lord no.” We felt like we'd never ever agree and would end up holding our newborn and arguing about what they should be called during what should have been a magical moment for our family.
However, one thing saved us from that sad fate, and that thing was being gay. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
Because my wife and I couldn’t get pregnant by accident, or by simply forgoing birth control for a few months, making our little baby required some pretty intensive planning. That gave us a lot more time to talk about names, for one thing, but it also meant that we were having the most intense conversations (read: arguments) before I was even pregnant. People laugh when we tell them that, but if you can manage it, I highly recommend it. Those conversations were some of the most challenging of my life, and I cannot imagine how much harder they would have been if we had been having them while I was all hormonal and puking my guts out.
It took a lot of time, and a lot of tears, but by the time I peed on the pregnancy test, we already had our names all picked out, and we were both pretty pleased. When we announced our pregnancy, family members casually asked “have you started to think about names at all yet?” and we just laughed and laughed.
Our son ended up being born by c-section, and after a very long labor, I was too exhausted to be fully present in the moment. I didn’t even hear his first cry, because my teeth were chattering too loudly, but once I knew he was out of my body, I sent my wife to be with him while the doctors checked him out. She brought him — this clean and dry bundle — to my side while they stitched me up, and she whispered his full name in my ear. And it was the sweetest sound I had ever heard.