Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What's in a name?

After our summer holiday, the cat welcomed us back with love (or as close as she gets to demonstrating affection- scratching at the bedroom door in a desperate attempt for a snuggle on the bed, followed by nips at our ankles as punishment for leaving her with only the neighbor to feed her). Our cat's name is Pepper. I think her name suits her sometimes moody personality. For a while both my husband and daughter wanted to call her Frisbee (as a kitten she could leap sky high) but I thought this name was verging on the absurd. Pets, like babies, don't get a look-in when it comes to choosing their own names (although people can always change their names later in life) and so it falls upon the adults to be clever but kind and choose a name that doesn't ridicule them in any way. I don't think 'Pepper' is ridiculous but her vast array of loving nicknames might just be: Pepsi, Peps, Pepperpot, Pepperami, Pepperley, Pepi le Pue.... Occasionally I catch her staring at me with disdain and I wonder, if she could talk, would she berate us for addressing her with all these silly names?

I've been thinking a lot about names: first names, nicknames, pet names, children's names and the obsession some of us have with choosing the most perfect, inimitable name possible. Last month the Office of National Statistics published their latest list of the most popular children's names in the UK. Oliver and Olivia came out tops followed by the the usual plethora of popular British names: Harry, Jack, Charlie, Sophie, Emily etc, etc... which are all lovely if (dare I say it) a little ordinary. Most parents I know live in horror of giving their child a convential name, instead they seek out the unusual; a name that is unique, cool and definitely not to be found on the top 100 list. It is not an easy task despite all the resources: baby name books, websites, novels, films, records etc... it is actually quite tricky to score high on originality and good taste when choosing a child's name.

When my daughter was born, I was so taken aback at actually having a baby in my arms that the act of naming her got a bit sidelined. She was nameless for a good six weeks. My husband had wanted to call her Lux, a great name but so close in sound to my sister's (Lex) that I wasn't convinced. I then set my heart on Lila, which held all the wrong associations for him (he knew a Lila who was... well, a bit rough round the edges) We argued and argued some more and in the end we compromised by calling her Lila Lux, a name that people have always loved.

When it came to our son, I conceded that having got my way with child Number One that my husband could choose whichever name he wanted. One night I discovered him and my daughter plotting away after her bedtime stories. They had come up with a name for the baby: Elvis Zorro Alvin. I don't know if it was the blissful fog of pregnancy but strangely I wasn't completely horrified. I did however tell them that they would have to choose one name out of the three and that whatever happened I would decide on his second name. They chose Elvis. His second name is Cassady.

The name caused controversy amongst friends, family and strangers and occasionally still does. My sister laughed when she heard it and told my daughter we couldn't possibly name our baby 'Elvis' as it was a 'joke' name. My father-in-law was incredulous and wondered how he would be able to push a pram around with a grandson called Elvis nestled inside (oh the shame!) I was more bemused by the fact that he envisaged himself doing a whole lot of pram pushing (he lives over 100 miles away).

People either loved the name or were shocked about our choice. We didn't name our Elvis after Elvis Presley although there is no denying that we are Elvis fans (but not in that stalkerish let's light a candle at Gracelands sort of way) We simply loved the name and knew that there weren't many Elvises around so our son wasn't going to feel like any old Tom, Dick or Harry (pardon the archaic phrase).
After the first round of criticism and as I neared the end of the pregnancy, we kept our mouths shout when people asked that tiresome question 'Have you thought of any names yet?' We hadn't changed our minds, we had just got sick of hearing unwanted advice. Elvis was named an hour after he was born; he was always going to be Elvis despite what anybody else said.

Now when strangers hear his name their response is mostly a polite and baffled silence. We get a few laughs and talk of 'Well do you have a back up just incase?" Incase what? Incase Elvis and his classmates realise that he shares his namesake with somebody famous who died over thirty years ago? I have a feeling that his generation will be far more precocupied with whatever starlet is at the top of the charts or whichever footballer or actor happens to be famous at the time. Fortunately for Elvis, he has not been hit by the ugly stick (ok I know- all mothers think their children are fabulously good looking but since strangers keep making comments about his good looks I'm assuming I'm not being self deluded). For this reason and many others, I have a feeling he will more than live up to his rather spectacular name.

                                                            The lovely Elvis Cassady

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