Wednesday, May 10, 2017

How We Named Our Kids

Mara here. When you have a child, picking out a name feels like a monumental decision. It feels like a huge responsibility to decide how the world will identify this new human being.

So, needless to say, most people don't immediately know what name they are going to pick. Most parents I know went through several different choices before making a final decision. In some cultures, they don't decide on names at birth. They wait and name their children later on, which kind of makes sense because it seems like names should match a person's personality.

Somehow, it usually works out because most people I know seem to fit their names. But it's always fun to think about names people didn't get stuck with.

Here's how my husband and I...and my mom and dad picked names.

Mara: (Daughter Malia)

We ended up naming her Malia Leigh. But when we first discovered we were having a girl, here are some other names we considered:

Kensington. We lived in the Kensington area of London for several months and I loved the name. I also liked that it would be a unique name. We would call her Keni for short and for several months we would talk to "Keni" in my belly. Of course, Malia doesn't remember this and thinks we were crazy for even considering it.

Bradlee. My husband's name is Bradford and I thought it would be fun to do something related to his name, but it didn't stick. We also thought about it as a middle name because my husband has his dad's first name as a middle name, so it would have been keeping in that tradition...but again, we didn't use it.

Here's how Malia got her name. During the time in the hospital while I was in labor—after many months of calling our child Keni—I decided that I wanted to name her Malia. Malia was the name of a girl I had met during a summer I spent at the ACT Summer Program in San Francisco. I remember, at the time, that I thought Malia was the most beautiful person I had ever met. She was also kind and talented, and the name always stuck with me. (This was before Malia Obama popularized it!) I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me to use this name when we first started thinking about names. I will blame crazy pregnancy hormones.

So somehow during the agonizing hours of labor, the name Malia was decided on for our daughter. And I'm not sure why we decided on Leigh for her middle name. It has no special meaning to me or my husband. I think under the pressure of having a nurse staring at me with legal papers in her hand waiting for some kind of answer, Leigh popped out of my mouth. It's not the most heartwarming of middle-name-deciding stories, but there it is.


Before I describe how my husband and I came up with names for our two children, I have to comment on Mara's story about how Malia got her name because I also got my name at the hospital where my mom went to give birth, but the opposite happened with me when it came time to decide a name. (I'm not sure Mara even knows this story.) 

My parents had decided that if I were a girl, they'd name me Deborah, and if I were a boy, they'd name me Tony. But because Tony (or Toni) was a name that could apply to either gender, my mom told me that while she was pregnant, they called me "Toni." When I was born, my mom and dad realized that I was a Toni because that's what they'd been calling me all those months. 

But there's more to this tale. While my dad was away from the hospital, the nurse came in with those legal papers that Mara referred to. My mom said that they'd chosen the name Toni for their little girl. The nurse said, "You can't name her Toni. That's a boy's name." My mom insisted and spelled it for her, but the nurse wouldn't write it down. At one point, she said to my mom, "I'm going to write down Antoinette." My mom yelled, "No, you're not!" But, not having the strength to argue anymore, she thought of the book, My Antonia, and told the nurse to write down Antonia. 

And so, although I only use it for official signatures, my name is actually Antonia Bernhard! (Actually, Antonia Eve Bernhard, Eve being the name of my father's mother...whom I never met.)

Okay. On to the topic.

My son, Jamal

When I was pregnant, we considered lots of names. Since we're both named Toni (he with a "y"), we couldn't resist considering giving the baby the same name (although we got tired of people asking us if that's what we were going to do). In the end, because we found ourselves laughing whenever we considered it, we realized it wasn't a good idea. 

We chose the name (should our baby be a boy) in a rather mundane way. We loved a TV show called The Outcasts about a Black and a White guy who teamed up after the Civil War to be bounty hunters. The plots centered around the culprits they were after and also the racism that the Black guy encountered at every turn, sometimes from his own partner. 

One night as the credits were rolling, Tony and I noticed that the Black actor's real life name was Jamal David (David was his last name). We said to each other, "Jamal...that's a beautiful name." And so, Jamal it was.

My daughter, Mara

Unlike with Jamal, we knew we were getting a little girl because Mara was adopted from Korea when she was about three. While we waited for her to arrive, we considered lots of names. One of us suggested "Tamara" at which point we both said, "That's nice, but how about just 'Mara.'" And so Mara it was! 

When I asked Tony the other day about how we came up with Mara's name (to be sure our recollections were the same), to my surprise, he not only remembered how Tamara became Mara, but he remembered the very place we were driving when we came up with the name. I have no memory of where we were! 

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