I own a writing and editing agency, and one of my services includes helping clients find unique names for products. I’ve created titles for newsletters and blogs, and developed lists of possibilities for business startups. Since nothing is exclusive anymore (thanks to the Internet), it’s nearly impossible to think up a word that’s brand-spanking new, and even more difficult to come up with a name that doesn’t have a negative connotation of some sort. Just this morning, a friend of mine apologized to his son on Facebook for naming him Charles. Apparently the name doesn’t quite have the “sheen” it used to.
Selecting the perfect name for a baby can be a stressful, time consuming and exhausting exercise. There are thousands of options and an equal number of dictionaries and websites that overwhelm us with spellings and international translations. And just when we’ve made our final choices for an infant son or daughter, someone comes along who tags their child with our name…or worse… they steal it. I’ve seen mothers dissolve into a puddle of raging tears upon hearing the news of another Matilda or Jamison. It’s as if there is an unwritten Motherhood Commandment that is to be kept by women across the land: Thou Shall Not Steal Thy Name. Breaking the Commandment is a sin punishable by public shaming.
Growing up, family members called me Katbird, which if spelled with a ‘C’ means “a person of power or advantage.” As an only child, there were times when that statement proved to be very true. However, ‘catbird’ also means an American songbird with a black crown and tail. While my hair is rather dark, I can’t sing and I don’t have a tail.
Fast forward 30 years when I wanted to name my daughter something that connected us in a special way. I looked up the phrase, ‘little bird,’ and the name associated with it was the one I chose: Ava.
In her birth year, more than 10,000 people named their daughters Ava. While the name has sentimental value to me, the name has given her a nervous twitch. There are five Avas in her little world, and one of them is called on quite frequently. However, when that child’s name is shouted, mine jumps 10 feet off the ground.
Following the news that we were expecting a second daughter, I thought I’d play it safe and create a name that wasn’t ranked in the top 10 list on babycenter.com. Maryn (MARE-in), a condensed version of my two aunts’ names – Mary and Mary Ellen – was a pronounced disaster. MYRON, MARION, MARY ANN, and MARN were members of our family for a while. Her own grandfather called her by the wrong name for nearly a year. Thank goodness MARYN doesn’t remember any of this.
West Virginia native and famed children’s author, Cynthia Rylant published a book called The Old Woman Who Named Things. The story introduces us to an elderly lady who dodges feelings of loneliness by giving names to inanimate objects found in her home. To my great pleasure, the book — which resides in the glass case of the University of Charleston Alumni Hall of Fame (also my alma mater) – is illustrated by Kathryn Brown. While I had no hand in this work of art, I’m certainly enjoying the confusion. “Kathryn” means ‘not spoiled by anything.’ But this blogger has only two words for the other Ms. Brown: