Naming the Kids
Before the details
escaped me (or at least
the ones I hadn't already written down), here's the story of naming the
kids. I am arranging things (mostly) chronologically as well as
breaking it down by topic, but it's a complicated story, especially
since Stella was named before her older brother!
The first name
Dani and I
worked our way through two or three baby name books over the course of
several 500+ mile car trips to visit my parents. My mom had
advanced cancer at the time, so we knew every holiday was to be her
last one, and we made the trip to spend it with her. This one
happened to be her last xmas: 2008. Dani was only about eight
weeks pregnant, roughly (I'm estimating; I don't remember the actual
By this time we had worked our way through
not only the baby books, but also a lot of other sources of inspiration
as well, such as from media. I'd listed people (real and
fictional) from books and movies, musicians, etc. I had even gone
through the index of several of my science textbooks from
college. The most useful of these was the astronomy textbook, and
I'd come up with the name Stella Nova. It had a nice ring to it,
but Dani wasn't convinced. At all!
We visited my ex-girlfriend Katherine and
her (then-)husband Alec, and the subject of baby names came up.
(This was the first time I'd seen Kat since we found out Dani was
pregnant.) Since we didn't know the gender at that point, we were
working on names for both possibilities. We admitted we had
nothing for boys yet, but I had just come up with a great one for a
girl: Stella Nova!
Both Katherine and Alec lit up. They
both leaned in and went, "Coooool!" Then they glanced at Dani and
saw she was rolling her eyes. "Oh, shit!" one of them said.
"We expressed an opinion!" It was too late. They may have
unintentionally taken a side, but it was immediately evident that their
response was genuine. What Dani thought was a silly name
definitely resonated with people.
I didn't make a note of what month we
happened across what should have been my son's name, but it appeared
onscreen at the end of the movie Terminator
not a great movie, it was at least visually entertaining, full of the
robots originally produced for the screen by special effects wizard
Stan Winston. He was a fixture of my childhood because I grew up
watching so many "making-of" specials that showed special effects
artists at work. Sadly, Winston passed away during the production
of this sequel after battling cancer for some time. As a result,
the end credits began with a dedication to Stan Winston.
"That's the name," I thought. It
sounds like a first and middle name. It was perfect.
"Winston's a dog's name!" was Dani
reply. She went on to cite our friend Jen's dog as an
example. My first thought was, "What about Churchill?" but I
couldn't talk her out of it.
However, she was okay with the name Stan,
which is good. I've always thought that was a great name. I
remember going to a "Stan's Music Shop" as a teenager and thinking that
Stan just sounded like a musician. The guy who ran the place was
nice too. Plus, I've always thought comics writer Stan Lee was
just an all-around great guy in addition to being the best comics
Still, the name was far from settled
on. There's always that feeling when you have a name in mind
where you go, "Is that my kid? Am I the type of person with a kid
named Stan?" We never committed to anything and just kept going
through the list of possibilities.
The baby wasn't due for another week and a
half when Dani's water broke. I got the call one night while I
was at my friend Kristin's house. I rushed home, got packed, and
we checked into the hospital. We really didn't have a name
settled on in preparation for his arrival. After all, we thought
we had another ten days before Dani was scheduled to be induced.
It was the first indication that you can't make plans when there's a
But one of the best things happened as a
result of not bring prepared. In fact, it has become my standard
piece of advice now: Don't tell anyone immediately after you've had the
baby. We held off sending out a birth announcement until we had a
name. After all, who says the baby's gender, weight, etc. without
announcing the name? You just don't do that.
So we had a baby, but we weren't sure what
his name was. We went in thinking he was probably named Scott,
but when he came out, he just didn't look like a Scott. Hospital
records called us in our room and asked what his name was. I told
them we didn't know. That was fine, they said; we didn't have to
name him right away. However, we couldn't leave the hospital
without giving him a name.
I don't have a copy of the final list of
options anymore, so here's my attempt to reconstruct it (going back
four and a half years now as I write this, but based on lists I still
have of all the options we considered at the time):
I had run combinations of all of these in
Excel to mix up first and middle names. "Ian Malcolm" was in the
running after the character from Jurassic
Park. "Ian" was also a
good middle name. But there were so many combinations.
Records called again the next day, and we
still didn't have a name. We still hadn't told anyone Dani'd had
the baby. A handful of people knew, but I kept it quiet
They called again around 4:30pm.
Third call this time. I'm guessing they were hoping to be able to
check at least this one name off their "to do" list before they went
home for the day. At that point the baby was 26 hours old.
I hung up and said to Dani, "We need to name this kid already."
I don't really remember how the
conversation went, but we settled on "Stan" pretty quickly, and I think
"Alan" probably went best with that of the remaining options.
We'd probably been leaning that way all along and just never
acknowledging it to ourselves. I called Records back. "Are
you ready? Because you're the first ones to hear it. His
name is Stanley Alan."
Then we started calling everyone
else. My dad considered the name for a second then somberly said,
"You know they're probably going to call him Stan, right?"
"Yes," I said. "We considered that."
Other names we
considered and rejected
Like I said, I compiled long lists of
names. Here are some of the ones that we liked but had to drop.
Django - After pioneering genius jazz
guitarist Django Reinhardt. However, the name is unusual and
associated only with the guitarist. We actually know a Django,
and he is a professional jazz guitarist, but it's probably good that we
didn't go this route as early indicators are that Stan is not
especially interested in music.
Eric - I like the name (especially in
conjunction with Clapton), but we already have family members with the
name: Dani's brother and my cousin, and we didn't want it to sound like
we were trying to name him after anyone.
Gus - This came from Dani's love of the
name. She likes author Augusten Burroughs (and considered the
name Augusten too). Additionally, we had a dog named Gus.
The problem was that Gus was still alive when Stan was born. It
just would have been weird.
Here's what we looked at in the baby
books. Some of these were conversation-starters more than under
From "20,001 Names for Baby"
Cara (or variant)
Kira (or variant)
From "Choose Your Baby's Name" (Note: Boys
and girls names are mixed together in this one):
Stella Nova (written on the bottom of the
page with the entry for Nova)
We also read "Beyond Jason and Jennifer"
which I checked out from the library. I don't have the copy to
see what we drew from that book, but I think we were narrowing in by
that time. However, it's a great book, and I highly recommend
because of its unconventional organization (i.e., it isn't just an
alphabetical list with etymology that's good for nothing except trivia).
That book also contains a really great
piece of advice: Don't tell anyone the baby's name until (s)he is
born! We shared Stella Nova's name before I read that, but after
I checked it out, we kept everything secret until then onward.
It's a good idea for a number of reasons. For one: It's your
decision. If you share the name early in the pregnancy, everyone
feels like they can chime in, and that just chips away your confidence
in your choice. Another thing is that, if you share the name, you
don't really get to introduce your baby properly. Those pieces
ought to go together.
I found from my selections from books and other sources that some
"rules" emerged for me.
No friends' or relatives' names. We definitely aren't going to
have a "junior" and we didn't want anyone feeling like they were
honored (or, conversely, excluded friends slighted that their namesake
wasn't chosen instead). Besides, that's just confusing.
No obvious celebs. Britany and Angelina get to go by their first
names. Our kid doesn't need to collect the baggage those
characters have strewn about in their history.
No "y" or "ie" sounds. Having a daughter doesn't mean she's going
to get saddled with a girly-girl name. Sorry, Katie. I
think names that end with an "A" conote femininity without sounding
First and middle names work together. They shouldn't just be your
first and second choice; they should work in concert to make a
statement and be aesthetically pleasing.
"Winston's a dog's
On a later visit to Louisiana, Dani and I
brought Stan by Katherine's house, and we again got on the subject of
baby names. I was still depressed about the fact we didn't use my
preferred middle name.
"Winston's a dog's name!" Dani said again.
Katherine quietly said, "That's my dad's
I had totally forgotten about this.
I mean, when we're a college kid, you still call your girlfriend's dad
"Mr. [surname]." You don't say, "Oh, hi, Winston."
I was already laughing as Dani started
cringing, but it gots even better. Katherine then sheepishly
added, "And my son's middle name is Winston."
I should have remembered this, of
course. She told me the story maybe a year or two earlier how the
twin boys each have a middle name from their grandfathers on either
side, that way they didn't name a child after one grandfather and not
the other. And they're middle names anyway, so who cares?
But it just got funny that she brought this up.
I was laughing even more at that, and Dani
was really, really embarrassed. Katherine didn't really care
anyway. She's Canadian, so it wasn't like there was going to be a
big fist fight about it or anything.
We struggled to find alternatives, but it
was pretty much settled from early on. Our top three picks were:
Stella - As mentioned above, this name (in
conjunction with Nova) was always on the list, going back more than
four years before her birth. Ironically, most people assume we
named the kids so that alliteration would mark them as a pair. In
reality, the latter one was named long before we named the former, and
his name was only arrived at under duress!
Eve - This occurred us one night as Stan
was watching Wall-E on tv
(back when we had cable). The robot Eve
made an appearance and we thought, "Hey...!" It sort of made
sense. Our daughter was to be the first girl, not just for us,
but on either side of the family. But then it dawned on me that
she would have a first cousin named Adam, and that just felt
awkward. Add to that the assumption people would make that we
were in any way religious, and we dropped it from consideration, though
it was still a favorite. Also, Evelyn was suggested as a
variation on Eve. I didn't like it as much as just plain Eve, but
it was dropped simply because it was too close to that name and thus
carried the same baggage.
Audrey - This was a late addition, but it
we both liked it. The suggestion came from an odd place
too. We were driving down the street in a nearby neighborhood and
passed a birthday party with a sign up reading, "Happy Birthday
Audrey." It's quirky and reminded me of the character on Twin Peaks, but it just didn't feel
like the name of our girl. But maybe her sister? We put it
on the list, but kept coming back to
"Stella." Good thing too, because my friend Roger's daughter was
due two months after Stella, and he named her Audrey. Neither of
us ever mentioned the name, actually; it was just one of those
things. The only conversation he and I had regarding names
(because I told him not to tell me and that I wouldn't tell him) was
that my girl was due in April and his in May, so I thought I should
name mine "April," and his "May."
We had a few other names in mind as
well. For example:
Olive - This one dated back to when Dani
was pregnant with Stan years earlier. We had a copy of an ob/gyn
book from Dani's mom, who was a nurse practitioner, and in it they
described the embryo at one point as "the size of an olive." It
just sounded like a cute name. The name Olivia has become among
the most popular in recent years, but Olive hasn't surged the same
way. Perhaps it was just coincidence,
but Dani was Olive Oyl for Halloween the year after she gave birth to
Stan (who was Swee' Pea while I was Popeye).
Xela - In my crazy attempt to leave no
stone unturned in the search for a name, I inverted our names and Alex
and Dani became Xela and Inad. While the latter one wasn't
terrible attractive, I really liked the sound of Xela. Dani
thought it was a little weird. But then, so are we! The
kid's doomed anyway.
Luna Ray - This was another of the
astronomy-themed names. Dani thought it sounded a little too much
like "lunatic," but it just sounds classical to me.
Clara - Dani's suggestion. Never did anything for me though.
Jane - Another one from Dani, but I thought it too plain. It even
has that reputation.
Florence - Just an oddball one from me. I guess it came from
Florence + The Machine, but I don't remember.
Hazel - Off a list, but I liked the idea of a "witch" name.
The red herrings
Because of our policy of not telling anyone the name, I came up with
lots of names I could throw out as conversation enders.
Sequel - An idea I came up with along the way since Stella was our 2nd
child. I never found a middle name that worked with it though.
October Potato - It has a lot of "O"s in it. This was our #1 joke
name whenever anyone would ask what we were naming her.
Incidentally, whenever we asked Stan what he thought we should name
her, all his suggestions involved food. I can't even begin to
remember them all, but Strawberry was one. Another time it was
French Fry. Many more.
Purple Orange - Neither rhyme, so good luck trying to make fun of her
name, junior high hooligans!
Valence Electron - The only new "science" name I came up with. I
liked Valerie's name, so I reverse-engineered it since she is "Val" for
Cranberry Juicy - I especially like her middle name because I know I
can get pants with that across the butt.
Not April - Because the conversation usually ran like this:
Someone: When's she due?
Someone: Is that what you're naming her?
If you asked Stan "What's baby sister's name?" he'd say, "Not April!"
I've taken the suggestion to heart (which I read in the baby name book Beyond Jason and Jennifer) that you
shouldn't share the baby's name until you actually have the baby.
It's good advice for several reasons: For one thing, what if the baby
never makes it? Then you've lost that opportunity to use the name
since it was bestowed on a miscarriage. For another, you're going
to hear all sorts of criticisms between when you reveal your choice and
the baby's birth. Really, it isn't anyone's place to influence a
decision that personal. Finally, it makes for an
introduction. You can present the baby to the world by name for the first time. It makes that revelation special.
Actually, a nice surprise was that Stella turned out to have been the
name of her great-great-grandmother (Dani's Dad's Dad's biological mother;
adopted). We only found that out after we revealed
baby Stella's name when she was born.
We had so many names that were
"runners-up," and I just had a eureka moment one evening and thought,
"Why not use all of them?" I started telling Dani that the baby's
name was going to be "Stella Nova Olive Eve Xela Luna Ray." She
just thought I was an idiot.
I even went so far as to call the hospital
and get the records department on the phone. What I found was
interesting. There's no rule for the number of names, just a 52
character limit on baby names, which includes spaces. "Stella
Nova Olive Eve Xela Luna Ray [plus hyphenated last names]" only had 48
characters! We were in luck!
Unfortunately, Dani vetoed the idea on the
grounds that she was too lazy to write out multiple names every time we
filled out anything for doctor's appointments or school registration,
and I acquieced to that. However, immediately after she was born,
we started calling her "Stella Nova Xela Luna Ray." Dani even put
the name to a little tune. Whenever Stella was upset, she would
immediately calm down if we sung the full name to her. As I write
this, she's almost nine months old, and that's still true. Funny
how that worked out.
Stella turned out to be named
after her biological great-great
grandmother. Dani's grandfather (father's side) was adopted, but
his biological mother was named Stella. We didn't know that until
Dani's dad mentioned it when we revealed Stella's name in the hospital
immediately after she was born, so it turned out she was named after
someone after all!
I read a study some time back about how a
significant portion of parents quickly regretted the names they chose
for their children. This was usually within the next few months
or years after assigning them. Actually, I'm pretty happy with
the names I chose, though not necessarily with the names they were
given, probably because we dedicated so much time and thought to the
naming process. There was little chance of encountering another
name that "should've been."
I'm still not happy about the Alan middle
name. I've rationalized it as he's named in good company along
with Alan Turing, Alan Moore, etc., but we immediately ran into
problems with people spelling it Allen. This even happened at the
pediatrician's office on one of his first visits, and they were even
copying the name from the paper we filled out, so there was really no
excuse. I really think Stan Winston was the better choice.
It is certainly the more interesting choice.
As for Stella, the name is perfect, but I
still wonder if we shouldn't have just gone ahead with the longer
name. Why not five names? Why not make your princess feel
like royalty? As I put it at the time: I think a girl should have
a name that is commensurately impressive for the qualities she
possesses. Her name already means "star" (Stella) and "exploding
star" (Nova), which is already redundant and epic. I think we
should have continued in that direction.
The only other "regret" I have isn't entirely reasonable. I wish
we'd had more kids so we could have used more names. When you
read a name on the page and it resonates with you, then you bring a
child to life in your mind.
we didn't have
In the "might have been" column, there's
still a boy and girl name. We don't get to go down this route
though since shortly after having Stella, Dani developed cancer and had
Had Stella been boy (i.e., had Stan's next
sibling been a brother), his name would have been Jack Kirby.
These were both names Dani liked but passed on when we were naming
Stan. I liked Jack, but she rejected it as too "trendy" or
popular. Kirby was a friend of ours. I wasn't crazy about
the name, but comic book artist Jack Kirby's name is always associated
with writer Stan Lee, so it just made sense. I wanted a name that
would have paired them, much like how Stella sounded great with Stan.
We unintentionally started down the
alliteration path with the first two, so who would be next? There
aren't really that many names that begin with "St-----", so we really
painted ourselves into a corner. However, if we had another girl,
she likely would have been named Starla. It continues the pattern
phonetically, as well as an astronomical theme to go with Stella
Nova. I hadn't settled on a middle name though.
We could always adopt, so stay tuned!