"Giving a name, indeed is a poetic art . . . "
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
A new year is like a newborn child--fresh and full of promises. Becoming a grandparent is to witness the rebirth of a family and the beginning of a generation.
Picking the perfect name for a baby is never easy. With my grandchild (due this month), the process took seven months. For me, a genealogist and keeper of the family history, it was a chance to provide my son and daughter-in-law with some of the thousands of names found in our family tree, a few of which date back to the 15th Century. My traditionalist suggestions, however, were met with lukewarm enthusiasm by a modernist mom-to-be who had already selected the names she liked.
Culling names from the volumes I have compiled over the years was an adventure for me and entertainment for the rest of the family. The prospective parents merrily tossed out such masculine names as Mordecai, Marley, Greenberry, Ranson, Bonaparte and Claude. And not the slightest consideration was given Araminda, Temperance, Gisseltje, Census, Magnolia or Myra.
It was easier for grandparents in the old days. The first son often was named for the paternal grandfather, the first daughter for the maternal grandmother, the second girl for her paternal grandmother and so on.
Times have changed. In our society, the naming of children is the exclusive right of the child's parents. Grandparents, expert in the name department or not, take a back seat. Fathers often play a secondary role as well. The mother, as in the past, exerts the most influence in naming children and usually has the final say.
Studying the first names in our family, I wondered about the women who had bestowed them. Some of these women obviously were well-read and imaginative, while others defied analysis. I noticed, as I looked closer at the names my grandmother, mother and sister had picked for their children, and at my own preferences, that our choices reflected our personalities. My daughter-in-law is no exception. She has her own tastes.
Despite our diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, Americans are all influenced by the same TV shows, movies, novels, sports figures, musicians and politicians. By the third generation, most children in this land of immigrants have been given or have adopted a popular American name.
The current No. 1 choices are Jennifer and Michael. Old Testament names for boys--Jacob, Adam, Jesse, Joshua, Nathan--and the centuries-old favorites John and James are at a peak. Jason, Jeremy, Brandon and Nicholas are other favorites.
For girls, the names Amber, Crystal, Tiffany, Tara, Ashley, Jamie, Courtney, Katie and Erin are in vogue. Just a hundred years ago, flowers and plants were frequent sources for daughters' names. Some, like Heather and Holly, are still in the Top 50, but others--Hazel, Ivy, Myrtle, Dahlia, Fern, Iris, Pansy, Daisy and Rose--are not. Yet the next generation may revive them.
Names establish our identity with others. Parents-to-be often consult name books for suggestions, but they seldom research the etymology of a name--and it's probably just as well. A name's literal meaning and origin have little bearing on a child's self-perception.
No matter what my daughter-in-law decides, I shall call my grandchild whatever pet name I choose, just as my grandmother did. Grandparents have certain inalienable rights, and a child that is loved has many names.