Baby Names, Never Used

I used to care about names a lot.  I can’t overstate this.  One of the first “someday when we have kids” conversations my husband and I had revolved around our favorite baby names.  We had lists and lists, and frontrunners before we ever thought about wedding reception table runners.  Then came the years of struggle, loss and infertility.  The lists got winnowed down to the few we loved the most, each one a tightly-held, fiercely fought-for desire.  We were not going to let go.

We had our longed-for daughter, finally, after IVF, and used our favorite name.  It felt like planting a flag on the moon — a defiant gesture against the universe, saying, HAH.  We held onto that name, and we got to use it.  Mission accomplished.

And then we became foster parents.

The thing about foster parenting is that, obviously, it’s different from the more traditional route people take towards parenting in a number of ways.  For one, you are the foster parent, always the caregiver with a stipulation at the front of your title, a little Post-It note saying you’re the mom, but not the mom-mom.  You can make some decisions, but not all of them.  Which is as it should be — a parent is still, after all, a parent, even if they aren’t able to parent their child in that exact moment, for any number of reasons.  The termination of parental rights is very serious, and until that happens, moms still have rights from afar.  So I’m not arguing about any “rights” I think I should have.  But being a foster mom does mean that when I yell my current childrens’ names, they definitely don’t sound like they were chosen to match (because they weren’t!).

But here’s the thing.  I have found I care way less than I might have a few years ago, when I had the lists and the sibling sets all picked out, and the future seemed much more likely to be the one most people take, the one with a few biological kids with names that all sound good together.  But now?

I don’t think the names and the sibling sets matter that much.  Yes, it’s fun to make lists and daydream about perfect sibling sets and what sounds good with your last name, all that stuff.  It’s fun!  And names carry a certain amount of weight, for better or worse.  I’m not saying they don’t matter like that.  But I also don’t think that the emphasis we place on them is entirely as important as we sometimes make it out to be.  For example, take sibling sets.  Sure, some names go together better than others.  But it’s not like you’re attached to your sibling for the majority of a lifetime.  Yes, while kids are little, they may get referred to as a bunch, but once they leave the nest, their name is much more of a singular experience.

The same thing goes for using names other people you know have used.  So what if there are four Floras in your mom circles, or three Theodores?  Once that Flora or that Theo grows up, they’re not always going to be sitting in a classroom of a gymnastics class with that person they share a name with.  It’s a temporary similarity, and I firmly believe parents should pick the names they love, rather than trying to appease everyone by choosing something nobody has picked (yet).  You don’t know how many names you’ll get to pick in a lifetime; pick the one you love.  And if someone loves that name after you pick it, let them love it without getting territorial, too.

Names are fun, and hard, and messy, and important.  But they’re just names.  We don’t own them, and they don’t make us who we will grow to be.  They’re symbols, hopes, dreams, and ideas.  But who a person is — well, a perfectly matched sibling set won’t decide that, any more than a unique spelling or a name that hasn’t hit the top 100 yet.  We like names, I think, because they give us a sense of control.  But I know for me, while I was busy making future sibling set name lists, life kept going, and the way my life would turn out to be went in a different direction.

And it’s okay.  Really.  Micah and Rowan will make excellent guinea pig names someday.

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