The great name debate

“You’re depriving me of my right,” my mom whined.

“Since when is a grandmother entitled to name her grandchild?” I shot back in a tense whisper, hoping my bathroom stall mates wouldn’t overhear. I’d waddled into the office restroom with my cell phone since I was making my tenth trip before noon, and because my mother was determined to continue the conversation.

We’d been volleying the topic of baby appellations back and forth for two trimesters of the pregnancy – my first – and I was growing tired of her flood of suggestions and persistent questions.

“Did Grandma name me?” I needled, knowing there’s no way my strong-willed mother would’ve allowed it. Rather than concede the point, she grunted, then continued her campaign.

Not long after conceiving, my husband, Jay, and I talked to several more experienced friends about the moniker minefield. The universal advice was to keep

secret the running list of contenders, so we made a pact to do just that. When people inquired, we’d simply smile and say, “We’re working on it.”

Before we learned the baby’s sex, when my mother was convinced it was a girl, she’d heap her favorites on us. “How about Patricia?” (Her name – this one came up repeatedly.) “Or Elizabeth? Katherine?” Once she learned a grandson was on the way, she reluctantly shifted gears. “An old boyfriend used to call me Patrick… What about James? Seth? That’s my friend’s husband’s brother.” She was maniacal, but not alone.

Jay’s mother, who’d always relied on more subtle methods of persuasion, called one day to report she’d had a vision. A red fox had run across her yard, and she regarded the incident as extraordinary because, for some forgotten reason, such animals reminded her of her father. “I interpret it as Granville giving the baby his blessing,” she said with great emphasis.

My Mona Lisa act only lasted a few months. When Jay’s mom asked about candidates over brunch one Sunday, I got caught up in the good cheer of the moment and couldn’t deny her. “Maybe Roman? We felt his first kick in Rome,” I explained gleefully. She made a sound resembling air escaping from a tire and said, “That sounds like a celebrity’s baby.” At the meal’s end, I left deflated.

Next, I proceeded to make the same mistake with my mother. In a weak moment, after surviving what felt like my fourth or fifth round of the Inquisition, I buckled, rattling off some of the less-loved appellations. “Maybe Foster or Sawyer? I like Campbell, too.” Her response: first silence, then a critical and suspicious, “Those are family names.” I pointed out that they weren’t, since no one in either family had them, but realized we were getting more to the issue. Translation: “Who wins – us or them?”

The tricky part is that Jay and I represent a mixed cultural bag. Between the two of us we’ve melded Pakistani, WASP, Irish and Italian heritages. We love the idea of honoring our family with a selection that echoes previous generations, but which family to honor? With patriarchs Mahmud (his father) and Ashby (mine), there’s really no middle-of-the-road compromise.

I’m also cognizant of the impression that names make. I like mine, but there is a bit of a disconnect between me and it. My freshman year roommate in college, upon meeting me for the first time, breathed an audible sigh of relief and exclaimed, “Victoria Ashby Grantham! I was sure you’d be a blonde in head-to-toe Laura Ashley, lobbying for high tea.” Instead, she got a mouthy half-Italian, sporting ripped jeans, curly hair and olive skin.



The great name debate