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 date).

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.

Stan Winston

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 Salvation.  While 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 creator ever.

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.

What's-his-name is born!

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 baby involved.

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 still. 

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 serious consideration.

From "20,001 Names for Baby"
Girls' names:
Cara (or variant)
Kira (or variant)

Boy's Names:

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.

The rules

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 girly.

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 name!"

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 name."

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.

Naming Stella

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 short.

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?
Me: April.
Someone: Is that what you're naming her?
Me: No.

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; "Grandad" was adopted).  We only found that out after we revealed baby Stella's name when she was born.

52 characters

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.

Family name
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.

The kids 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 a hysterectomy.

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!

Copyright 2013 Alexplorer.
Back to the index