The quest for a baby name

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Almost from the beginning of my pregnancy, I knew the name. A name that nodded at my parents, that spoke of my love for my child. A simple, strong, unusual but traditional name. I sang my belly a lullaby, and the first word was the perfect name.

The problem was, the name was for a boy.

I was one of those women who just knows. I felt him, his special testosterone-y boy energy, and people told me, “A mother knows. A mother can sense these things.”

I could sense that there was a tiny, tiny penis in there somewhere. I kept looking for it on the ultrasound. I kept thinking I saw it. There! Nope, a kidney. OK, then there! No, that’s an entire leg.

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My mother’s sense is s--t, apparently.

“It’s a girl,” said my husband, wonderingly.

“Oh no,” I said, overwhelmed. “She doesn’t have a name!”

I resisted the urge to whip out my phone and start googling girls’ names, right then and there.

I politely waited until I was home, and then I spent the entire evening on my computer, reading lists of thousands of names. The next day, I read them all again. The day after that, I refined my search and started again. My eyes began to hurt a little. I canceled some plans. My daughter needed a name! I couldn’t think of her as complete without one. I wanted to call her something, when I recited my grocery list to my belly in the shower. It felt strangely imperative.

I felt increasingly desperate, but at least I knew where to start. I am Jewish and my husband isn’t. Since my daughter would have his last name, I wanted her first name to indicate her Jewish heritage.

As a girl, I struggled with my name—Kate—because I loved the lonely, determined glow of the eternal light in the synagogue. It hung above the ark where the faded Torah scrolls nestled, and I had the epic sense of being a part of something ancient and sacred, something small and hidden and warm. And Kate! Kate was an all-American girl with freckles and Christmas presents! She wasn’t me, with my bumpy nose and curly hair and my owlish eyes. At eight or so, when I first thought of this, I fancied myself very deep, strikingly unique. Kate was a common name; anyone could have it. I was disappointed.  My parents, understandably, rolled their eyes, but the sense that I’d been given the wrong name never completely waned.

So I guess the beginning of my daughter’s name was my own name. Maybe it’s always this way, on some level?

After an anxious week of combing through the internet’s response to the search query “modern Jewish girl and unisex names”, I decided to name her Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. It was strong, different, ethnic, and evoked empowering imagery.

“I don’t hate it,” said my husband carefully. 

“No, you LOVE it,” I said. “It’s perfect!” 

“No…” he said, looking uncomfortable, “I don’t think I love it.” He was being sensitive, after the whole “I’m positive there’s a penis!” fiasco and my subsequent small google-oriented naming breakdown. 

“Malka…” he said, trying it out. “It’s very…Hebrew. Kind of clunky.” 

“Malka!” said my grandmother, before I could tell her the name. “Malka was your great-grandmother’s Hebrew name! I was trying to remember it…” (There’s a tradition of giving children an English and a Hebrew name.) 

It was a sign! It was a good omen! 

I called my husband at work, which I never do. This was important enough. “We have to name her Malka,” I said. 

“If it’s that important to you, we will,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s right. What about my family?” His family is Swedish and Irish. 

Damn it. He was right. 

We deliberated. We stayed up at night, deliberating. We came up with a list of requirements for the name. Ideally, it would be: 

-Personally meaningful (we wanted the name to feel special when we said it)

-Jewish in origin but not SO Jewish-sounding that it was confusing to non-Jews or made our daughter sound like her father studies Talmud all day long rather than being the adorably goyish secular intellectual he is

-Easy to spell and pronounce

-Not too girly or playful (in case she wanted to be a judge or something else very serious one day)

Bonus:

-Short instead of long

-Ending in a consonant instead of a vowel (so many girls’ names end with an ‘a’ that I found myself avoiding that pattern)

-Great nickname included

-No mean puns that spring instantly to mind upon hearing it 

We decided to each compose a list of our top five to ten names and then exchange them and see if any overlapped. At the end of the day we emailed each other the names. That night we shared the winners. There was only one that we’d both chosen. It surprised both of us. 

It was a little edgier than we’d imagined. It was a little less obviously Jewish-sounding than I’d thought. It was a little more biblical than I’d initially hoped, but in a funky, creative way that didn’t feel hyper-religious or heavy with the weight of a character’s well-known history. It was technically unisex, but sounded feminine to both of us. But most of all, when I said it aloud, I felt shivery with excitement. 

It sounded like open space and the luxurious green of untouched nature (a beautiful, yearning image for city dwellers like us). It sounded like something everyone is searching for. It sounded like it belonged to a girl or a woman who could take on the world. It sounded like a name my eight-year-old self would’ve been jealous of. 

“Eden,” said my husband, trying it out. “Hi, Eden,” he said to my belly. He looked thoughtful. He smiled. 

In the story, Eden is the place where everything began. Having a baby felt radical to me, risky, sudden. It felt like a willingness to interrupt the life I’d chosen for myself and the career I’d fought hard to pursue. It felt like opening myself up to something simultaneously totally normal and completely wild, extreme. Creating a life felt like the beginning of a whole new life for me. 

Eden is my beginning, the place where I made myself vulnerable and new. And she holds the potential for everything within her. 

And also, she has a really cute, clunky nickname: Edie! 

Just in case all of that meaning gets to be a bit much. 

(Although so far, at six months, we mostly just call her “Bean,” for reasons I can’t remember.) 

P.S. Her Hebrew name is Malka

10 comments

  • Check The Chaser's take on this. Fines for parents for unsuitable baby names. Very funny.

    Commenter
    Barry
    Date and time
    February 06, 2014, 11:14AM
    • We had a similar problem with the baby name...we came up with a boys name we liked almost immediately. It took many months of stress to come up with a girls name. In the end, we put 5 of each of our favourite names in a hat and put it to chance...we drew out 200 times and marked down which were drawn out the most. Each time a name was drawn we said it out in full. After so many times saying the names, it became fairly obvious which we preferred and the luck component went out the window (incidentally the name that came 2nd was the one we went with). I heartily recommend saying the name hundreds of times, in various ways with different nicknames etc to know how you really feel about it. And then decide if you would be happily bellowing it out across a supermarket (because eventually, you will).

      Commenter
      Anna74
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      February 06, 2014, 11:28AM
      • What a beautiful name! I cannot empathise with the feeling of "but the sense that I’d been given the wrong name never completely waned" as I absolutely love the name my parents bestowed on me. I loved the fact it was unique and I went through school being the only Tara around. Even now working at a multinational company, there is only one other Tara. I have decided to name my child (boy or girl) with a not so common name. It provided me with a sense of independence and proudness at not being just another Kate or Sarah.

        Good luck with little Eden.

        Commenter
        Tara
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        February 06, 2014, 11:56AM
        • What a beautiful name! I cannot empathise with the feeling of "but the sense that I’d been given the wrong name never completely waned" as I absolutely love the name my parents bestowed on me. I loved the fact it was unique and I went through school being the only Tara around. Even now working at a multinational company, there is only one other Tara. I have decided to name my child (boy or girl) with a not so common name. It provided me with a sense of independence and proudness at not being just another Kate or Sarah.

          Good luck with little Eden.

          Commenter
          Tara
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          February 06, 2014, 12:00PM
          • We wife turned the nitrous to MAX and we thought, "Max", that's a good name.

            Commenter
            John
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            February 06, 2014, 1:19PM
            • Eden is a beautiful name.

              Think you may have missed a golden opportunity to name her Hepzibah though. Hepzi for short! C'mon...nothing shiksa about that...

              PS - Did the same as you. Myself and the missus each made a list of our five favourite names. None of them overlapped. We read the lists to our three day old girl and she smiled at Amelia. Twice. She chose her own name and now (she is almost 5) we couldn't imagine her as anything else.

              Commenter
              Pax
              Location
              Perth
              Date and time
              February 06, 2014, 1:27PM
              • My parents could not agree on a name for me. In the end, they wrote down a list of names, and gave it to my grandmother. It was she and my aunt who chose my name.
                I agree that it's great to have a name which is short and unusual - I was in class with five Annas and six Marias at school!

                Commenter
                RED
                Location
                Near the beach
                Date and time
                February 06, 2014, 2:52PM
                • I read the beginning of this article curiously wondering what name would be chosen... We felt vey clever after naming our beautiful baby girl a few months ago - how lovely to read to the articles end and find the name is the same we chose for our daughter - Eden. It is so beautiful, people almost gasp when they hear it. Unusual without being too 'out there', pretty but not over the top. I wonder how long it will take before others discover the name and it becomes a top ten baby name - hopefully it doesn't!

                  Commenter
                  Anna
                  Location
                  Melbourne
                  Date and time
                  February 06, 2014, 3:04PM
                  • Gorgeous name.
                    Naming a girl was so much fun for my partner and I. We deliberated and debated for months but we loved every second. Being a school teacher I can tell you it ain't easy!
                    At about 8 months, I found a piece of paper that I'd haphazardly written on right at the beginning of my pregnancy, a name that had popped in and out of my head without much thought at all, and suddenly there it was. We both just knew.
                    The added irony of the name was that I always swore I would never name my daughter a unisex name like my own. But it doesn't matter in the end, they grow in to their name and you just can't imagine it any other way.

                    Commenter
                    Lbb
                    Date and time
                    February 06, 2014, 4:49PM
                    • I didn't like my name, possibly because it was "Marilyn" at a time when Marilyn Monroe was every man's fantasy, and I looked nothing at all like her. Not to mention that there always seemed to be at least three "Marilyn"s in every class at school.

                      So when I was 21, I made the big decision to change my name to something I liked. I went through the process of changing it legally and I knew I would never go back to my original name.

                      My parents were furious at first, but everyone got used to it and I've lived with the name I chose happily for over 60 years.

                      So maybe parents should just not stress out so much. In the end, you may not be the ones who make the final decision!

                      Commenter
                      I did it my way!
                      Location
                      Melbourne
                      Date and time
                      February 06, 2014, 5:19PM
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