How I named my kiddos

I was discussing names today with a few friends (surprise surprise) and one of them noted that the thing about names she loves the best are the stories of the hows and whys of the choice. I completely agree that the stories are just the best — there have been times where I’ve really warmed up to a name that I previously didn’t care for or felt lukewarm about after hearing the story behind the choice.

Even with my own kids that’s been the case. Each of my children have a first name-middle name combo that I am completely head-over-heels about, but I didn’t always feel that way in the beginning.

Robert: My first son’s name, for example, was my father-in-law’s first name. It’s a fine name, a normal name, a traditional, masculine name, and the name of a great saint. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about with that name. But at the time we were choosing his name, I just didn’t feel like that name fit my style. But it was non-negotiable — I felt as strongly as my husband did about honoring his dad with our firstborn son; for his middle we gave him a name that’s connected to my dad in a strong and meaningful way. I fiddled with all sorts of interesting (non-traditional) nicknames for his given name, but in the end we just ended up calling him the full name all the time, and it totally suits him.

Raphael: I lobbied hard for my second son’s first name. It was a name I’d loved my whole life, but my husband just wasn’t feeling it. But over the nine months (and really, I started with the conversations about naming #2 months before #2 was actually on the way) (my poor husband), I brought the name up again and again. And I’d be kind of sneaky — I’d say, “What do you think of Raphael?” even though I’d asked him the same question a bunch of times before. Even though he started out saying, “No, sorry” each time, by the time the end of the pregnancy was rolling around, my husband had warmed up to it. Ladies: let this be an example! Funny though, my husband liked the name’s natural nickname, which I did not, and I was determined my son would only ever be Raphael. It only took a couple of months before I was calling him Rafe too, and to this day, all his names — his full name and his sweet nickname, as well as his middle name, which is after my husband — totally suit him.

Dominic: We had a totally different first name-middle name combo picked out for our third little boy, and for most of the pregnancy we were sure we were going with it: Oliver Joseph. We both just loved the name Oliver, and Joseph was my father-in-law’s middle name. We also loved that Joseph was a nod to Pope Benedict XVI. It seemed perfect all around … until it didn’t. One night, in my sixth month, I told my husband that I wasn’t sure of Oliver Joseph anymore. Funny enough, he said he’d been feeling similarly. And in the course of that conversation, had while were falling asleep, we decided on a completely different name. Dominic’s first and middle names are the exact same as my husband’s grandfather, and reflect other family names as well, and as a bonus have a connection to the Dominican Order, of which I am a lay member. As with Robert’s name, Dominic’s wasn’t one I ever saw myself wanting to use, but I love it now, and it totally suits him.

Joseph: Though we never went back to Oliver, we never stopped loving Joseph, and so boy #4 received this name. We gave him a name after my side of the family for his other name, and it was all kind of clear cut except for the small sticky bit of my brother potentially having a prior claim on it (which I won’t elaborate on further — you’ll just need to trust me on this point. I know there are no dibs in baby naming but … sometimes there are). He and his wife didn’t have any children at the time, either in- or ex-utero, and had never explicitly said they wanted to use the name; regardless, we thought it would be more respectful to ask if they’d be okay if we used it, rather than just bulldozing ahead with our own agenda. My brother and sister-in-law were most gracious, assuring us it was just fine. (Incidentally, they didn’t share the names they were considering when they were expecting their first, and when he was born my husband and I were surprised to see one of our top choices for another boy was the name they chose. Of course we couldn’t begrudge them their choice — we’d never told anyone it was on our list. And of course, we appreciate that they have excellent taste.) We’re forever grateful that there was no drama with our choice, because it totally suits him.

Maximilian: We had kind of a hard time figuring out a name for boy #5. Augustine had been high on our list since I was pregnant with Joseph, and we strongly considered it for #5 as well, but we always ran into pronunciation difficulties. We wanted au-GUS-tin, and definitely did not want au-gus-TEEN. I totally understand that au-gus-TEEN is a valid pronunciation, but it’s also the pronunciation used when the name is given to a girl, and I know some of you might want to put on your battle helmets about there being nothing wrong with a boy having a name that might be used for girls or even just *seems* feminine and what makes a name “feminine” anyway and what’s wrong with being feminine besides, etc. etc., but I’m just saying: I want my sons to have masculine names. Period the end. So we fiddled with the spelling and considered Augustin but in the end chose Maximilian instead with a middle name that pairs perfectly with it and when his name is said out loud First Middle Initial Last it sounds like a private investigator or a Beverly Cleary character. I just love it, and the nickname Mac, and the whole thing just totally suits him.

Charles: Though I have always been loud and proud about the fact that I don’t care if we have a boy or a girl, and no we’re not “trying for a girl,” and yes I’ll be delighted if we have another boy, and yes it would also be cool if we had a girl, I think that maybe we found it hard to believe that after five boys we’d have another boy. Especially since we had a really hard time coming up with a boy’s name. For most of my pregnancy, we had tentatively agreed on Augustin Francis (that Augustin again! and Francis is a family name on my side and also — Pope Francis! Woo!), but like with Dominic, at a certain point we both realized that we each had stopped loving the name Augustin(e). Even disregarding any spelling or pronunciation difficulties, we just didn’t care for the name anymore. The thing is — I was weeks away from my due date at that point. I had never ever thought that I — a name nerd of the highest order — would not have a name locked down by that point in my pregnancy. At the same time — ooh, I was pretty excited to have to go back to the drawing board. What fun unexpected choice would we come up with? We’d thought about a couple other names in the previous months, names that we’d never in a million years have considered previously, names like Hugo, Conrad, and Cole. It was fun for me to see my husband’s name taste (which he always describes as “Bob.” See firstborn son) being stretched in ways I didn’t know were possible (Hugo was high on his list. What??). He actually challenged me to find a name that went with a nickname we particularly liked, but whose natural formal names were not our taste, and when I had a suggestion that I thought worked, that he decided was genius, and we were totally decided on Charles’ name, my husband told me it was my “greatest naming triumph.” I will carry that compliment with me to the grave. We were so last minute with our decision that when our little Charles was born, nearly three weeks early, I still hadn’t had a chance to tell my dad what our final decision was — he learned when I called my parents to tell them they had yet another grandson. A grandson whose last-minute previously unconsidered name totally suits him.

So those are our name stories, and I’m hoping you see a theme here: that each of my boys’ names totally suit them. No matter what my opinion about any of the names was, or my husband’s opinion; whether one of us liked the name more than the other of us did; or if we weren’t totally sold that the name “fit” our family and naming style, in the end we discovered that each boy was given a name that totally suited him, with all his individuality. I’m happy to say also that, so far anyway, each of the boys seems to really like his name and feel like it fits him. I remember reading years ago about a mom who said she was interested in the idea that God has a name already picked out for each child, and the parents just need to figure out what it is. I don’t know how I feel about that, but I do know that I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate name for each of my boys, and since we prayed about each name decision, I know God had a hand in it.

P.S. I can’t tell you what our girl name is, since there’s still a chance we’ll use it. If we never have any daughters, then I’ll share it with you. It’s been the same during all my pregnancies, and is a name particularly meaningful to me.

P.P.S. We miscarried once, a baby that my mother sense tells me was a boy, though it was too early to tell for sure. Though I won’t tell you what his name is, I will tell you we gave him my husband’s confirmation name as a first name, and a Marian name for his middle. We speak of him often, and even have a nickname for him. I ask him every night to pray for his brothers, and I look forward to meeting him in heaven.

8 thoughts on “How I named my kiddos

  1. Found you today via Simcha Fisher… Wish I’d found you earlier! Great blog. And I like you style. We have a Gabriel James (named after the two priests who concelebrated our wedding; a Christmas season baby; born on Epiphany Sunday in the “year of the priest” – he keeps saying he wants to be a priest and we have our hopes). We also have a Michael Joseph (who is quite the fierce little guy, so Michael fits him, and hopefully Joseph will teach him gentleness!). And like you we have a Raphael Benedict, who so far seems to be living up to his name (he’s 5 mo and generally delightful). Our Michael was almost a Raphael but I am glad it went the way it did. We also call him Rafe. How do you pronounce your Raphael’s name? We say “Ray-fee-el.” Anyhow I look forward to poking around your blog more. 🙂

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    • Oh, to add: Michael and Joseph are also family names. The Benedict was both a nod to B16 and a Latin descriptive for the blessing of this baby after a particularly difficult year.

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    • Beautiful names Eliese! I prefer your pronunciation of Raphael, and I think it makes the most sense of the nickname Rafe (Raphael’s a blog pseudonym for my son so I don’t ever say it out loud and I don’t know anyone with the name, but I love it!).

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      • Ah, gotcha on the pseudonym; didn’t read your “about” section first! Well, I like how “Rafe” is kind of British, and with the pronunciation we just tell people that it’s consistent with the A in Gabriel. I know he’ll probably be correcting people the rest of his life. Now that we have run through the canonical archangel names we’ll have to get creative if we have another boy someday. We have joked that since we went with Benedict, we could start using founders of monastic orders (I have always loved Dominic, which would go well with Francis and our last name!). I guess I’ll have to keep your blog in mind just in case (and we’ve never been able to figure out girls names, but then we haven’t needed to). Anyhow, carry on!

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      • I really do like that pronunciation the best … do you know Danielle Bean? She doesn’t blog so much anymore, but when I was first having babies she was THE Catholic mom blogger — she has eight, her youngest is the same age as my second — and she has a Raphael/Rafe. I always wondered how they pronounced his name. Doesn’t rah-fy-EL seem a little affected for an American with English as the first language?

        Oh gosh yes — Benedict, Dominic, Francis, Augustine would be great … nice!

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  2. The whole Joseph story (connection to Pope Benedict) has be really curious how you worked that into a pseudonym bc I can’t figure how it could really be anything other than the actual name Joseph! Maximilian too makes me very curious. The others seem like there could be a few choices that they could easily substitute for as likely pseudonyms.

    Back when I used to blog more and considered pseudonyms (I ended up using real names in the end, as I use my maiden name online anyway and my husband & I keep our online stuff very separate—I figure it’d be hard to track us down for theost part), I really liked the idea of using the pseudonym Flora for my daughter Fiona. I got pretty attached to the name Flora in general during that time!

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