I'm the kind of person who has had a list of potential baby names locked and loaded and ready to go since I was child. In the early-mid '90s, my favorite names were the ones that felt flowery, romantic, and princess-like. Isabella, Anastasia, Violette, Josephine. These days, I tend to favor unisex names, or at least names that can be easily shortened into a nickname that is unisex. And if you are someone who knows how I feel about my own name, you might be surprised to hear that lately I am actually favoring Spanish names. Though I'm still a big fan of Josephine, and that's Ms. Alcott's fault. (If you think I'm sharing any of them you are straight nuts — there are baby name thieves everywhere, no one is safe. )
When I was a kid, my favorite part of imaginative play was always coming up with the name of my particular persona; and to this day I adore coming up with names for my characters when I'm writing stories. The name carries so much weight, means so much.
So it seems like this article on baby names in last week's New Yorker was tailor-made for me! If you're a name fanatic you have to dive in and enjoy. I've been reading and re-reading it all week, trying to absorb all the fascinating-to-me information on all things baby names. Why we name babies the way we do and how our names affect us throughout our lives, how they shape our identity, is absolutely thrilling to me. It's something I've been meditating on literally for as long as I had the cognitive ability to do so.
Anytime I hear that someone has had a baby, I immediately need to know what they've been called. Doesn't matter if it's the lady down the street or Beyonce. I've even been known to actually get anxious when too much time passes and I don't know a new baby's name. It's a sickness. Back in the days of the Yellow Pages, I would spend afternoons flipping through it to see if I could find a unique name that I'd never heard and see if it spoke to my soul.
I hate to admit it, but I think the reason I've long been obsessed with names is because I kind of hate mine. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that it's unique, (at least it is in the US) but it's been a source of much consternation since I was a kid. Back then, I hated it because it was different; because I yearned to be a Tiffany, Brittany, or even Annie. Literally pretty much anything easy to pronounce in English, white-as-hell, and spunky.
Looking back, I can understand that so much of the pain from having an unusual, difficult-to-pronounce name came from the fact that I was dodging racist micro-aggressions on a daily basis — I just didn't know it! When my sixth grade science teacher pronounced my name incorrectly for an ENTIRE FULL YEAR despite the fact that my classmates and I corrected her every single time, I wanted to melt into the carpet. Every day for a year I went on a roller coaster of anxiety and embarrassment because this woman could not be bothered to say my name properly.
And it was like that every first day of the school year, and every time we had a substitute teacher. I would feel my heart race as they got farther down the alphabet and closer to my name, cringing through their butchered attempts to pronounce it. You have to remember, this was pre-Madonna naming her daughter Lourdes. People had literally never heard the name before. I definitely owe Madonna a high-five for making my life just a little bit easier.
Studies have found that it is actually a really big deal when teachers don't make the effort to learn their students name — that it has profound, lasting impact. I can certainly attest to that. There are now organizations like My Name, My Identity dedicated to educating teachers on the importance of taking the time to learn how to properly pronounce their student's names and being respectful about it.
And it's not just that I'm traumatized from a childhood of micro-aggressions aimed at my name, I just don't find it to be particularly pretty. The combination of letters is grating to my sensibilities, and don't even get me started on the fact that Lourdes the city is basically Catholic Disneyland. Or that "lourd" means "heavy" in French. LIke, how truly, hilariously awful.
I don't mean to rag on my name too much — I swear I'm not too bitter about it. (Though the fact that I literally just wrote an essay about it might prove otherwise.) I understand why my parents gave me this name, and why it was meaningful to our family. I can appreciate that. There are currently four living Lourdes' in my family, so my name is unique everywhere but in the Avila-Uribe clan. Go figure.
All that said, I would never go so far as to actually change my name, though I completely understand why some people would. If your name feels like it doesn't fit, it's really oppressive! Do I think my name fits me? Not necessarily, but it's mine and I do feel pretty stuck with it. I wouldn't even change it if I got married one day, because it's just who I am. For better or worse, my name is a part of me. But deep down, in the quiet, secret recesses of my heart, maybe I'm a Natalia?
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