The Name Game

Like most new parents, my husband and I spent a lot of time searching for the perfect name for our firstborn.  We spent hours poring over baby naming books and dutifully combed the internet for ideas.   We bounced suggestions off each other, listening to how each name would sound when paired with our last name.  I wrote out every potential name on a master list where I drew a dark line across the names that didn’t make the cut.

We were methodical in our process.  We knew that we were having a boy, which narrowed the list of candidates quite a bit of course.  We also knew what we wanted; since we were born in different parts of the world we wanted an “international” name – one that would work in Spanish, German and of course, English.  We wanted a classic name with a modern sensibility.  Oh, and it had to sound good when his name was read aloud by the Nobel Prize committee.  (Hey, you never know.)

In other words, we were paralyzed by our search for perfection.

Naming your child is one of the few things expectant parents have any control over – you can’t control how or when the baby will arrive, or the gender, or what he or she will look like.  So it is natural to put a lot of thought into the name – and while coming up with a name can be a lot of fun it can quickly become a source of anxiety.  There are so many variables to consider – do we want to honor family traditions or are we brave enough to start our own?  (We weren’t, but good for you if you are.)  How do you find a name that’s too not common, but still familiar?  Will the name make him a target for playground teasing?  Who do we know by this name, and do we like this person?  It can go on forever.

Thankfully, even though we were precariously close to falling into the trap of prenatal naming obsession, we ended up coming up with a name pretty easily.  As we took a walk one afternoon, my husband and I played a game where he suggested names and I dismissed them.  Until he said, “what about Sebastian?”

Sebastian.  It’s a classic name, uncommon but not weird.   It worked in all our required languages.  It sounded strong and masculine.  It worked with our last name.  We liked its meaning - “revered”. It definitely isn’t a name for everybody, but it was perfect for us.  We loved the name – so much so that we decided to keep it a secret until our son’s birth.  And when he was born, and we looked at his face for the first time, we knew it was perfect.

One of my favorite memories of that day was overhearing my husband call the grandparents and tell them our son’s name for the first time.  They loved it.  Cheers all around!  We’d done well, and we moved on to the business of caring for a newborn.

When Sebastian was a few months old, my brother made a comment along the lines of “I didn’t realize you liked the University of Miami so much.”

“What are you talking about?”  I asked. 

“Well, you named your son after the school mascot.”


After all the hours of researching every possible association for the name Sebastian, I had overlooked a most obvious and personal one.  While a beautiful name, it was also the name of the mascot of my undergraduate alma mater.  I even lived on the same floor as the guy that wore the costume, and this fact never once crossed my mind.  It’s still the perfect name for our son, but I thought I had uncovered everything there was to know about this name.  Clearly, this is impossible and I have learned my lesson.

We are now expecting our second child, another boy.  We’ve been much more relaxed this time around, thankfully.  But I’m now in my eight month of pregnancy, and the blank spot in the birth certificate worksheet mocks me every time I dig it out.  I want my second son to have a name that was chosen as thoughtfully as our first son’s.  Our friends agree, “You need to find a name that goes with Sebastian – it’s not like you can call him Bob.”

Sometimes it feels like we’ve dug ourselves into a hole, but of course we haven’t.  We may not have not bought any books this time around, and I haven’t visited any baby naming websites or looked up “The Hottest Names of 2007”.  Instead, we will meet this new little boy, and I know we will look into his eyes and just know what name is perfect for him.  And if this new, relaxed approach doesn’t work, we have a plan B.  I did go to graduate school.  I just don’t like how “Cavalier” sounds in German.