Baby Names: I won’t be stealing your India or Ezra or Croía

Tanya Sweeney: I have a baby name in mind and I might test it out in Starbucks

Women’s names written on post it in different colours

Women’s names written on post it in different colours

 

This “choosing a baby name” lark is a very serious business. Whatever you name your baby, after all, is the name you’re likely to say most in your lifetime (followed swiftly by, “NO!”).

Full disclosure, and with the greatest of respect to my namesakes: I hate my name. My teeth itch when I say it. “Tanya” is the name of a leggy PR bitch in a UTV drama. A WAG. Your ex’s horrible new posh girlfriend. As a youngster, I longed to be a Rachel or a Karen or a Nicola, or any other regular name.

Tanyas were scant enough in 1980s Blanchardstown, but then Calvins (my brother’s name) were even more so. He hated his unusual moniker growing up – he wasn’t named after a certain jeanswear designer, but a young patient from my mother’s nursing days – but if anyone has grown into a cool and unusual name, it’s our Cal.

Ask some pregnant women what they might call their child, and they turn furtive and secretive, as though a Kardashian-style embargo has been issued

In my case, my dad picked my name up in Grogan’s pub. I arrived several weeks early, leading to a hasty panic in choosing the name. The baby’s head duly wetted, he solicited opinions on a name for a baby girl. The story of this baby virtually born into her mother’s tights whooshed around the room, and one punter piped up: “She should be called Tanya, because it’s Russian, and she was born rushin’.”

And so it came to pass.

Alternate identity

It was only years later that my mother admitted she wanted to call me Rachel (nice and normal!) or Tara (ditto!) or Leigh (find me an uncool girl called Leigh!). Have you ever noticed someone’s face when you ask them about the names they were nearly called as a baby? They’re almost always wistful about it; a moment to contemplate an alternate identity, even momentarily.

In any case, here we are, trying to come up with something for Due In February. B has issued one directive: “no Crouch End names”, by which he means he has no truck with bougie, hipster, trendy names. Atticus, Otis, Desdemona, Cosima, all out.

Even so, most prospective parents tread a high-wire act when naming a baby. Certain trends have borne out with the current generation of youngsters. Often, they want something vogueish that reflects their vibrant personality and discerning taste. More so than ever, there’s an impetus to be unique: to come up with a bit of a showstopper. There is a cap doffed to the arts: Maud, Joni, Axl, Cass. Some go retro/vintage: Mabel, Vivien, Alfie, Silas. Another tribe of parents opt for the very modern phenomenon of lesser-spotted Irish monikers: Siún, Aodhan, Fiadh, Iarla. (Want to be truly radical in 2019? Call your kid Claire. Or John).

Tanya Sweeney, pictured at home in Stoneybatter, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Tanya Sweeney, pictured at home in Stoneybatter, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

This pull towards the idiosyncratic even befell B momentarily: last week, he suggested a name that, never mind Crouch End, would barely pass muster on Made In Chelsea.

Where these names would have been eye-catching a decade or two are now commonplace. Atticus has seen a massive surge in popularity of late, and according to Nameberry, the most popular girls’ names of 2017 were Aurora, Cora, and Isla. In much the same way that Bert, Queenie and Ruby became trendy after a fallow few generation, I await the day that Barbara and Derek and Susan and Carol make their re-emergence.

Secretive

I’ve long suspected that there’s been a “celebrification” of motherhood, though it’s with the baby naming that it really is writ large. Ask some pregnant women what they might call their child, and they turn furtive and secretive, as though a Kardashian-style embargo has been issued (I really don’t care that much. I won’t be stealing your India or Ezra or Croía, lovely though they are). Apparently this name stealing is a massive transgression, especially when there’s a space race on towards a particularly unusual name.

I recently learned a new phrase: nominative determinism. It’s a theory where people tend to gravitate towards the work or life that fits their names. By that reckoning, a Thor is more likely to dominate the sports pitch than the IT department. But there’s something in this: parents give their children pretty, strong, unique, posh or artistic names because it’s an approximation of their hopes for their children. And really, what’s wrong with that?

The funny thing is, I’m often more touched when a new parent names their baby Alison or Catherine or Daniel. Will they grow up feeling weirdly different to the Noahs, the Olivias, the Harpers and the Rileys, the way Calvin and I did? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I do have a baby name in mind. It’s as Crouch End as they come, all told, but I’ve loved it for over two decades, since I babysat a child with this name. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of friends, and their brows knot instantly. “Spell that.”

My friend Julie suggested a great litmus test, and it’s one that every prospective parent should try: “Go into Starbucks for a week and use this name when you’re ordering your coffee and see how you get on.”

If that’s not a good way to test the waters, I don’t know what is.

Tanya Sweeney’s pregnancy series
Part 1: More chance of Bosco getting pregnant
Part 2: First came the shock, then the advice
Part 3: I’m pregnant and have a glass of wine
Part 4: People have never seen me like this
Part 5: Baby bump makes a woman so visible
Part 6: No more well-meaning advice
Part 7: Facing the financial shock
Part 8: My last child-free Christmas
Part 9: Being a mum but not having a mum
Part 10: I have a baby name in mind

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