Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

September 02, 2002

The case for a good middle name

One question I’ve vowed never to ask expectant parents is, “Have you picked a name yet?”

It’s not that I’m not curious. It’s just that I had to answer it so many times myself, I thought my lower jaw was going to dry up and fall off, like an old leaf. Or maybe a scab.

Naturally, what follows the questions are judgments — I knew someone with that name. She was the town slut. People are also full of suggestions. When Adam and I were deciding what we’d name Lucy, we had to endure all sorts of nominations from people, some of whom have very different ideas of what makes a great name than we do.

We had some rules. Nothing weird. It’s hard enough being the offspring of two extreme nerds without having to say, “present,” when the teacher says, “Is Cleopatra Berliant here?”

For awhile, we thought about the name Hazel because I love Watership Down, which features a brave and noble bunny named Hazel. It’s hard to name your kid after a rabbit, though. Especially a boy rabbit. And again, there was the geek problem, which only gets magnified when your name is associated with the great-grandmother set.

On the other end of the spectrum, we didn’t want to go too trendy. No pop star names. Shakira, Britney, Pink — all right out.

Most of all, nothing too common. In my high school class of a hundred kids, there were three Lisas, and it was just confusing. I liked being the only one with my name, as it reminded me that I am an individual — something that, in all seriousness, lasted until I started writing a column for Encarta and readers started confusing me with Martha Stewart. People! I do not have a recipe for pickled beets or ham towers. I don’t care if you starch your wedding dress! Stop the insanity!

Because I’m a thorough nerd, I reviewed the list of Top 100 names for girls for ten years back. Four out of my five nieces have names that appear in the Top 10 list. It's insane.

The name I kept coming back to had been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember: Lucy. It was my godmother’s name, and I loved her. It's not too common, not too kooky. It sounds happy, and it means light, which is awfully nice. So, Lucy it was.

Then, a few months before the baby was born, my sister got a dog. A chocolate lab. Name? Lucille. I decided it wasn’t a deal-breaker. Dogs live, what, 15 years? Even better, my sister, for some reason, calls the dog Bunny.

The day after Lucy arrived, as we were sharing the good news with one of Adam’s relatives, she said, “My son had a dog named Lucy.”

As it turns out, a lot of people have named their dogs Lucy. The uglier the dog, the more likely it is to be named Lucy, or so I am judging based on all the jowly bulldogs and floppy-eared mutts we’ve seen in photographs on the wall at the pet store. The one exception to this rule is a very beautiful, three-legged Doberman named Lucy. But she gets a free hall pass because she was named after my Lucy.

Nonetheless, this is probably why Lucy hasn't been high on the human-name hit parade. Once a name goes to the dogs, well, it’s gone to the dogs. When’s the last time you met a guy named Buster or Ralph?

Names do come back from the dog side. I knew a lot of dogs named Abby when I was a kid. Now, I know of a fair number of little girls named Abby. (It’s No. 16 on the list for 2001, in case you were wondering.)

I have a sneaking suspicion Lucy has also been retrieved.

When we visited friends in New York in March, I overheard a woman about my age say that all her friends are naming their baby girls Lucy. A friend of mine who lives in Indiana reports that there are four little Lucys in her area.

And it's even worse here. Adam took Lucy to the grocery store, where the clerk asked her name. Her response: “Another one?”

Tomorrow, we’re going to the second birthday party of a girl who lives three blocks away. Her name? Lucy. What else? The thing is, that Lucy is someone’s second daughter. So it’s not even her parents’ favorite name. What kind of people put Lucy in second place? How will we ever get along?

The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that our Lucy came first by three weeks. For the first time in my life, I’m on the cutting edge of a trend. Maybe this means, after 32 years of trying, that I’m finally hip.

Who knew that all it would take is having a baby


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