What’s in a name?

After all a rose by any other name would smell as sweet….. or so Shakespeare said. And I think we all know what that means – a name is, in one sense, merely a label. A convenient tag we use to identify things, places, sounds, smells, people. But when it comes to naming a person, i.e. your brand new teeny tiny adorable baby, the whole logic and tag and convenience concept goes totally out of the window.

When I was pregnant with our daughter (now nearly 6) I think I read every baby name book for miles around. I bought some, I borrowed from libraries in Meath, Cavan and Westmeath.  I drew up innumerable lists of names. My husband was somewhat more laid back, having three children from his previous marriage he had done the whole excitement of first-time parents choosing names but before. But he humoured me – I think his rationale may have been don’t mess with a hormonal woman. We had made some basic decisions long before the baby was due to arrive. I have never used my married name, but had decided I wanted our children to have his surname. Decision One. Decision Two – how many names to give? My husband has two and I have three – i.e. my given name and two middle names. After some debate we settled on three. Decision Three – what type of names, i.e. names that had emotional meaning for us, family names, ethnic names….. you could go on for hours with that. We eventually agreed that the first name (the one the child would be known by) would be an Irish name, the second a family name and the third an inspirational name, the name of a person or persons we admired. That might sound a little pretentious to some but it felt right to us.

The second and third names were easy enough – for a girl Margaret as second (family) name and Rosa for third (inspirational) name. That one was chosen for Rosa Parks  and  Rosa Luxemburg.   For a boy Patrick as second and most likely Oscar as third (for Oscar Wilde, Oskar Schindler and Bishop Oscar Romero).  

So that was all straight forward enough.  But of course the trickiest name to choose is the first name, the given name, the name the child will be known by.  Their tag, their label if you will.  And here is where the fun began.  I spent many a happy hour sitting with a notepad, pen and cuppa and piles of baby name books.  Now the fact that we had decided the first name would be Irish would have made my job easier you would have thought.  WRONG!  Oh there were so many lovely – and some truly appalling  – names out there.  At one stage my short list for a girl included Bebhinn, Realtin, Lasairfhiona, Blathin, Siofra and Sorcha.  My husband wasn’t mad about any of those and really hated Lasairfhiona.  I suppose Lasairfhiona Lynch might have been a bit much in hindsight.

Right, I said, over to you I said.  Come up with your own list of names.  It was at this point he commented that the best thing to do was to wait and see what the baby looked like and see what name fitted. Well I never heard such tripe in all my life and wasted no time in telling him so.  “We need to have an idea of what the baby will be called, its important, we need to see if the names will fit together, its nice to give our little person an identity.”   It occurs to me now six years later that my urge to name the child long before it was born may have had more to do with my impatience and control freakery than anything else but hey ho.  He, on the other hand, is calm and patient.  Just as well someone is around here.

When I was 29 weeks pregnant we found out we were having a little girl. That did make my name quest easier as now I could disregard the boys’ names sections of all the books I had amassed.  So roll around to two nights before she was born,  we were sitting up in bed and I was chattering away about names. My husband suggested that we make a shortlist of about 10 names we both like  – or that we could settle for – and then make a final decision after we met our daughter.  That sounded like a good plan to me so we started.  It took a while but finally we came up with 10 Irish girls’ names that we either really liked or were at least willing to consider.  I cannot for the life of me remember the final list now but I know Lasairfhiona didn’t make the final cut.  Pretty certain Bebhinn and Realtin didn’t either.  He included one name that I had never considered.  And he seemed quite keen on it.  So I played him at his own game, suggested we leave the list at that and wait and see.

As our daughter was to be delivered by planned CS (she has complex disabilties diagnosed prenatally) I went into hospital the next evening and she was born the following morning.  My husband brought the list in with him that morning but didn’t have it on him in theatre as he had changed into scrubs.  When our amazing beautiful fabulous daughter was safely delivered, wrapped up and handed to her daddy, and the relief that she had made it through her first challenge was subsiding, one of us (not sure who but most likely me) raised the question of her name.  All I can clearly remember is that we were gazing at her and he suggested “What about…” giving the name he’d included on the list that I wasn’t so sure about.  Hmmm. I said it out loud to hear it with her other names and looked at her.  And there she was.  Fionnuala Margaret Rosa.  It fitted her perfectly. 

Now of course she is Fionnuala and I couldn’t imagine her ever being called anything else.  Well apart from all the nicknames and pet names we use for her.  Funnily enough the only name she will really respond to is her own – Fionnuala.  She is learning to say it as well, bit of a mouthful for a child with significant intellectual disabilities.  Thank goodness I didn’t call her Lasairfhiona!


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