Monday, June 15, 2009

The Name Game

We got a cat when I was fourteen, and as I was the oldest and precocious, I decided I would name it. I named it Socks first, I think, after the White House cat (naturally). But then seeing as our cat didn't have socks, I decided to name it Tim Johnson instead, which was the name of the dog in To Kill A Mockingbird, and I liked the idea of pets with surnames. But that was stupid, so I changed the cat's name to Daisy, and I can't remember why. Then we found out that Daisy was a Tom, so I decided she would be called Casey (at the bat?). And then when I decided to change the cat's name next, my family called it off and Casey the cat stayed, though I never called it that. I always called it Cat, because I'd seen Breakfast at Tiffanys, and wanted to go Golightly.

So this was why I was apprehensive about naming my child. Though I've always found names fascinating and entrancing, I'm fickle about them. In many ways, cats and children are different creatures (so I've found of late), and you can only change a daughter's name so many times if you must do it at all. How to pick a name that would stick?

The first name I ever loved was "Julie", after Mackenzie Phillips' character on One Day at a Time. Julie was also my best friend in grade one, and I adored her and she beautiful, though she was sensitive about her hairy arms. I went through an "Ellen" phase, after the character on Family Ties, I think. I watched far too much television; I would have died to have been named "Jo". I fell in love with "Bianca", not from Shakespeare, but from Shelley Long's character's sister in the movie Hello Again. I was particularly impressionable, and agreed that "Cordelia" was the most exquisite name imaginable. I loved the name "Zoe" for a while, and after I read Louise Fitzhugh's The Long Secret, I thought "Zeeney" was similarly cool, though she'd not been the most appetizing of characters. And these name fixations would go on and on, influenced by all kinds of sitcoms, films and pop stars. I kept ever-changing lists of what my future daughters would be called, though it never occurred to me to think much about a son.

Strange that Louise Fitzhugh ultimately did decide my child's name. Baby was not to be Zeeney after all (which is good) but Harriet, after the book from which The Long Secret was a sequel. And I'd never read Harriet the Spy until last year, actually, after I heard this feature on NPR. But I fell in love with Ms. Welsch, and her name topped my list. I knew immediately that I wanted a little Harriet of my own one day. I couldn't think of anyone better to be named after-- such a feisty, clever, independent, hilarious, and wonderful character. Impossible too, which strikes me now as a somewhat fortunate/unfortunate quality to project upon one's child. Perhaps I should have thought it through a little bit more, because this baby fits the bill so far. The name itself means "Home Ruler", which is appropriate, I think. So this is what we've got ourselves in for...

But it sticks. It's belonged to her since the moment we saw her, and I do love that we now know someone with this name-- have a Harriet in our family even! It is a ubiquitous name throughout literature, but all too rare in the real world. I think I'll not stop loving it soon, because it's Harriet's name after all.

Though I do wonder whether she'll thank us for it. If she'll find Harriet M. Welsch as charming as I did. It is a tremendous power, isn't it? Naming a person? Even fictionally, the name is such a determinate and the author certainly bestows innumerable qualities by such a fact. Naming a real person requires as much consideration-- this is destiny. I find it strange that we were handed so much power. At the hospital they asked us her name, we told them, and it was that simple. I would have expected some kind of seminar, or at the very least a lecture (a stern one) about the seriousness of the decision we were about to make based on a 1960s children's novel. Is nothing sacred? Apparently not, but we're three weeks in, and at the very least, I've not wanted to change it yet.