As a child, I never wished for a different name the way many little girls do. Mickayla was always envied by my friends the way I envied their blonde feathered bangs and side ponytails tied up with neon ribbons—as a thing not to obsess over but to casually think, It would be so friggin’ awesome if I had that. I could never take part in the What-do-you-wish-your-parents-had-named-you? conversation for fear of looking like I was bragging. I couldn’t be seen as a show-off, and the only contribution I had was that I wished my middle name was Jane instead of Lynn. This desire never made any sense to my friends because my argument was that Lynn was too boring, too lackluster. “So you want it to be Jane instead?” they would criticize. “How is the name that rhymes with ‘plain’ less boring than Lynn?” In 2nd grade, I didn’t know how to explain that I thought assonance sounded more interesting than alliteration because I didn’t know that was why I liked it. So, I would just counter with, “’Cause it totally sounds way more rad. Duh.” Burn. Mickayla: 1, Boring Name Girls: 0.
If I had to guess, I would say that the age old What-are-you-going-to-name-your-kids? conversation came along in my life sometime around 3rd grade. This was a conversation wherein I could shine. And I did. I had far and away the best names for my future little girls. None for boys though, as I decided that would be my husband’s responsibility as long as he didn’t want to name them something too lame. This is of course long before I came to the conclusion that if I catch a sudden case of The Pregnancy, odds are far more likely that it will have been independently engineered on my part with only minor assistance from a baby’s daddy or sperm donor. Marriage still seemed really pretty when I was in 3rd grade. All of that innocence really brought out the best of my creativity though. I thought of my future daughters’ names as dazzling and fresh, all while retaining a humble sense of tradition. I have since discovered the secret formula was merely to pick words I liked that were not typically names but were somehow related to me. So, my top three name picks for the academic year of 1992-1993 were Summer, July, and Ruby. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, that’s my birth season, birth month, and birth stone. Who cares what time of year my daughter would have been born. She would have suffered a name that was all about me. Thank God I didn’t get pregnant back then, right?
However, I fear that any child I raise at any stage of my life will end up weird as shit regardless. Her name could be Andrea or it could be Xylophone—who cares. She’s still going to pose a formidable argument when I tell her that no, she cannot use magic markers on her face instead of makeup. That sort of thing will not be allowed until she is 16 and singing in a band. Not outside the house, anyway. Of course she’ll always be allowed to do that at home. She’s going to be strange and it will be my fault and there’s no way around it. I just recently thought about how there’s really no reason not to dress your baby in costumes instead of real baby clothes on a daily basis. The baby doesn’t care what it’s wearing, right? And it’s those kinds of thoughts on parenting that will doom my child. No matter what I name her, she’ll be the kind of kid who’ll announce to guests where the drawer full of knives is in our kitchen. She’ll make models of the solar system out of old bubble gum and expect full credit when turning it in as an assignment. She’ll pick out her own future children’s names like Seaweed and Biscuit Face Murphy. She’s going to be awesome, really. But I’m probably going to be the only one that thinks so, at least for a while. Things are going to be tough for her and I must be careful in choosing a name that doesn’t make it tougher. And I don’t just mean a name that will gauge the way people treat her, but a name that will gauge what people expect from her.
Summer for instance, would make my child insufferable. She’d be a hippie kid stereotype, played out. People would be instantly frustrated with her, rolling their eyes and sighing to themselves, “Great, probably raised on a commune. Probably took a whole village. Probably goes to a Montessori School. Probably saves kittens. Probably has never had a bath. Will probably grow up to ruin our economy with her harebrained socialist drivel. Probably already smokes weed.” No, I will not force this negativity upon my child. People will come at her with that attitude all because of her name, which is honestly a stupid name anyway. Whatever light-hearted weird kid activities she relishes in will prompt disapproving looks from bald Republican strangers, their arms folded across their sunken chests as they see the country’s collapse in my blissfully oblivious daughter. And as she grows older, she’ll begin to notice. Eventually, she’ll shy away and lose her vigor. Her once sunny desire to melt crayons into her own ill-smelling candles will dwindle into something she does alone, in isolation, in scorn.
July would basically illicit the same response, except a number of semi-literate people will see it written and pronounce it as Julie, forcing my child to become frustrated and change her name to that anyway when she finally decides to cash in the free-spirited kid thing. And worse, she’ll blame me. “Why are you so weird, Mom? Why couldn’t you name me something normal in the first place? Look at me when I’m talking to you! Don’t just stare at your crafts! Why did you let me dress as Wonder Woman for my first day of Kindergarten? Why don’t I have a father? Are you high on that airplane glue? Again?” No, my sweet child. My eyes are glossy from sadness, not inhalants. I failed you with that ridiculous name.
And worst of all would be Ruby. People would see the jelly stains on her tie-dye, see the twinkle of spit in the corners of her little cherub mouth, and, noting the dead leaves in her hair from rolling around at recess, think that she is dumb. Ruby is just such a cute name—too cute in fact, for my weirdo kid. A normal child could be named Ruby and still manage ok if she had normal parents who would take her to church and piano lessons. My Ruby, on the other hand, would raise a constant stream of Bless-her-heart’s from old ladies and receive free-candy everywhere she went. She would enjoy this, yes, but I would ruin it. I can see myself holding her hand in line at the bank, swept with sudden rage when the teller explains to my 9 year old how to unwrap her sucker. “You treat my child like every other child, you hear me! There’s nothing wrong with her! She’s just different! And a little dirty too, but that’s her school’s fault! I just picked her up!” This of course, would further everyone’s notion that there is, in fact, something wrong with her, and that we’re both brave for fighting this battle every day. So strong, me and my Ruby. We never give up! And my child will proceed through life expecting to be treated as a special needs child, when in reality she’s only weird. She will come to associate the two, and will never try very hard at anything because everything will be handed to her.
I cannot allow my child to become limited by the name I give her. Without doubt, there is power in a name. Even as children, we see that, dream about it, use it to work ourselves into the fabric of the world. We find the meaning in our own names and either fight to reject it, or resolve to accept it and allow it to define us. I suppose it’s the normal childhood condition to want a different name but I was so extraordinarily lucky to have one that portrayed both eloquence and individuality: eloquence because it sparks something in the eyes of others when they hear it for the first time, and individuality because I was 17 years old before anyone ever called out my name in a public place and I turned to find them addressing someone other than myself. All the Heathers and Amandas of the world have long known the feeling of sharing their names with half of their Senior class. I, on the other hand, never had to share. Sure, I never had a keychain or bike license plate bearing my moniker, but I had something no one else had and I cannot imagine naming my child anything less. I don’t honestly know what course my hypothetical child’s life will take but I do know that I want to be the kind of mother who has equipped my daughter with secret weapons. I want to give my daughter a toolbox for tough times, much like the way my mother would slip Snoopy greeting cards into my backpack when she saw me getting ready for a bad day. During middle school, when childhood dawned into the horrors of adolescence, I began to funnel my abundance of previously cute quirks into a sack of self loathing to be stored indefinitely. I began to catalogue my faults, both social and physical, in hopes that I could hide, change, or counteract them before high school. Of course I couldn’t. All I could do then was sit with them, count them, labor over them holding me back. But my mother, God bless her, gave me a strong name, lyrical and rare. I found I had it waiting for me, proud and beautiful, even when I didn’t feel the same.