Most parents struggle with choosing the perfect name for their baby. I know that my late wife Karen and I did each time we were expecting an addition to the family. Each of our three children have names that were chosen very deliberately. Books are written to help expectant parents with this task and, in many jurisdictions, governments release annual lists of the most popular names given to babies derived from birth registrations.
In my parental family, the task of naming the babies was completed on a more ad hoc basis. There are no other ‘Ian’s in the family that I have found so clearly the Scottish naming convention was abandoned early in the name selection process. No, my father settled on Ian because he wanted to choose a name from which a shorter or derived form could not be made. He wanted the name to stand alone unlike for example Donald becoming Don or James becomes Jim or Jimmy – Ian is simply Ian – or so he thought. He was mortified when I was a young kid to hear my friends call me ‘E’, their short form for Ian. Shockingly, my family, including my father, picked up on the shorter ‘form’ and ‘E’ became my name around the house. My maternal Irish grandmother had a tough time with the name ‘Ian,’ apparently exclaiming “Glory be to God, he’s calling him Isaac.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with Isaac!).
My middle name is Gerald. This name was selected because my mother’s favourite uncle was her mother’s brother, Gerald Foley. Little did my parents know that Gerald was not his name. No, I believe in order to later confuse family historians, my mother’s family made it their habit to use their middle names, in whole or sometimes in part. Gerald Foley, the uncle I was named after, was in reality Louis Fitzgerald Foley – Louis after a grandfather and Fitzgerald was his mother’s maiden name. He shortened his middle name and went by Gerald. His brother was even more inventive when he chose to go by Clarence rather than his given names of William Dorsey. Where the name Clarence came from is still a mystery.
My brother Bob owes his name to me, not our parents. Bob was the fourth son born into our family. My parents had named their sons Ian, Brian, and Stephen and Bob, the 4th son, was to be Donald. I was 5, almost 6, years old when Bob was born and can still recall answering the phone at my maternal grandmother’s house when my father called to tell me I had a new baby brother named Donald. I explained, apparently emphatically, to my father that he and Mom could call the baby Donald all they wanted but I was calling him Bob – after my best friend, Bob Dobson who lived across the street from us. After a bit of back and forth about the name of the baby (“No Ian, the baby’s name is Donald” “You call him what you want, I’m calling him Bob”) , my parents apparently gave in and my brother was named Robert – just as I had instructed. A very empowering experience for a 5 year old!
While I enjoy the predictability of the Scottish naming convention while searching out my paternal ancestors, I have come to realize that there are potentially great family stories to be told about the naming of babies. So, how have you decided on baby names and how did your parents decide on your name? Perhaps it’s time to document the stories before they become lost memories.