Expectation vs. Reality When Naming Children

Theresa Zoe Williams wrote a guest post for Sancta Nomina back in January, and I’m happy to share another piece by her! Theresa is a longtime member of the Sancta Nomina community and mother to three amazingly named children (read about her older two here, and the birth announcement for her youngest here). She is a freelance writer whose work can be found online at EpicPewCatholicSingles, and Where Peter Is, as well as at her personal blog Theresa Zoe Williams. Theresa has also contributed to the books The Catholic Hipster Handbook: The Next Level and Epic Saints: Wild, Wonderful, and Weird Stories of God’s Heroes. She hosts the comedy podcast Up Too Late and is writing her own book on fairytale princesses and virtue. Find her on Twitter @TheresaZoe

I have loved names since I was a little girl and named everything I could –– pets, stuffed animals and dolls, characters in my stories, our family’s vehicles, future children. Names meant possibilities and I loved all of the combinations, meanings, and styles. Suffice it to say, by the time I married, I had a long list of names and name combinations for our future children. Some names on this list were ones I loved on my own, like Chiara, Lux, Milo, Carmine, and Basil, and some were ones my now-husband, Jess, and I liked mutually, like Irrianna, Patrick, and Jack. Jess didn’t have nearly the history of loving names like I did but that doesn’t stop him from being opinionated! Even though I had a long list of personal favorites, none of these names ended up being the names of our three children, Ruby, Peter, and Penny.

Peter was an easy choice for us. We had both always liked the name Peter and so we knew that would be our first boy’s. His middle names, Leon and Gerard, are names of our fathers, so again, an easy choice. We never did agree on a second boy’s name, though. Girls’ names were much harder for us. When we were pregnant with Ruby, before we knew if she was a boy or a girl, we had two competing girl names: Ruby Mae Anastasia and Chiara Lucy Jeannette.

I am part Italian and I always wanted to give my children beautiful, flowy Italian names. I first heard Chiara when I was studying abroad in college and fell in love immediately. I later learned of Bl. Chiara Luce Badano and fell in love with her, so Chiara Lucy was my homage to my Italian heritage and to this beloved holy teen. Jeannette is the name of my mother who passed away before I met Jess. So, altogether, that name carried a lot of weight and meaning for me.

 Ruby and Mae were names I had once offhandedly said I liked and my husband fell in love! I reminded him that we agreed the children would all have two middle names like me (I was given two at birth and now legally have three, as I added my Confirmation name as another). Without hesitation, Jess said, “Ruby Mae Anastasia,” Anastasia being a name he liked and the Confirmation name of one of his sisters. It didn’t seem, at first, like this name had as much weight for us and, initially, I rebelled against using it for our first daughter. But it just wouldn’t leave us alone and we finally agreed that Ruby should be her name. We later discovered how rich in meaning for us Ruby Mae Anastasia really is and then it was clear why that was to be our daughter’s name. Our second daughter’s name, Penny Annalise Mariae, was less of a tribulation to choose, but was a whole different journey.

Both stories of my daughters’ names illustrate how different expectation versus reality really can be. Ruby and Penny are neither Italian nor flowy and nowhere near the spectrum of names I considered previously! And I have been sad that I’ve needed to pass on Chiara twice now, but that doesn’t negate how wonderful I think my children’s names are and how perfectly they fit them. If I had full reign over naming my children, they’d be named Chiara, Peter, Milo, Liliana, Sofia, Basil, and someone would have had the middle name Giuseppe. As wonderful as those names would be, they would represent only part of each child’s family and history. My personal naming style can probably be called “heavy-handed Italian” but when you add my husband and his family history and style into the mix, we come out as “grounded but spunky.” My proclivity for off-the-beaten path names with my husband’s for familiar but not overused names combine together to make this new, cool style that’s completely us.

Us. That’s really the long and short of it. Having children is an “us” endeavor and a beautiful sign of the inner reality of two lives becoming one. The names of our children should reflect that, also! There are all sorts of ways to do this, including finding ways to combine your styles (like we did), compromising (one style for first names and another for middle names, for instance), picking the names of favorite saints regardless of style, or asking for outside help (Sancta Nomina is fantastic at bridging styles and finding names with deep meanings for families!).

Do you and your spouse have this problem? How do you solve it? Are there any names you wanted to use but then didn’t for your children?

Copyright 2021 Theresa Zoe Williams

5 thoughts on “Expectation vs. Reality When Naming Children

  1. My husband and I are usually pretty well in agreement, which has surprised me. We lean more towards naming for devotion to a saint than for sound of the name, though, so perhaps that’s why- and that’s more where my expectation vs reality differences come from. We also have only named girls (4 of them)- we are agreed on our first boy’s name but after that we may have trouble…

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  2. Biggest expectation vs reality thing for me has been fit with the last name. Our last name starts with Or- so for me that basically rules out any name with a predominant “or” sound, many of which I really like: Eleanor and variants, Nora, Cora, Flora… none of them is my all-time fave or anything but sometimes I discover a name and am like 😍 only to realize it’s an “or” name! (Also as I’ve come to terms with this, I’ve realized that my maiden name also has a predominant “or” sound so it’s not just the fault of my married name 😆)

    Also, our last name rhymes with Louise and Eloise so I feel we can’t use those either. Again, not my fave names but not something I’d have ever considered before getting married and acquiring this last name!

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    • This was a much a bigger factor for us, too, than I expected. We have a strong “ill” syllable in our surname, so Lillian, Lily, Jillian/Jill, Felicity, etc just don’t work!

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  3. This is us, too. We have some shared names we love, but the list is short, especially for my Dh. Also, girls were WAY harder to name, so God saw it fit to give us only 1 son and 3 daughters, haha!

    I too love flowy names for girls.

    We ended up with:

    N@than!el J@mes
    Jul!@nne Cl@re
    Cl@!re M@r!e-Therese
    C@rol!ne Gr@ce

    Not one girl’s name ends in “a,” although I do think we managed to keep them very feminine. My husband’s short list meant he was a major deciding factor in naming. I also let him choose between our two finalist boy names for our son because well, he is a son! Interestingly, Dh chose my pick anyway. So I kind of feel like our son is the only one who got the name I chose (even though, yes, we DID work together and agree on the girls’ names).

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