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The Weight of a Name

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The Weight of a Name

Part of the fun when you discover that you’re having a baby is deciding on a name, right? Well, it usually starts out that way with the parents. And then family members, friends, and sometimes strangers off the street, start offering up their two cents. You know, those not so subtle suggestions that you name the baby after Grandma so and so. And “wouldn’t it be lovely if…”

When I was pregnant with my daughter, a friend of my mother’s was constantly proposing a variety of baby girl names, every time I saw her, which was a lot because I was on bed rest at my mom’s house and she often came by to visit. One day, I told her flatly that I wasn’t soliciting any feedback on my baby name considerations. (Yeah, she caught me on a bad day.) From that point on, there was an official moratorium on outside baby name proposals, and I remained pretty tight-lipped about my contenders.

But even without the opinions of others, parents have a lot to consider.

as a single mom, I also had one other particularly important consideration to make – my baby’s last name.

For example, there’s the whole namesake issue. Of course, there are lots of little girls who’ve been named after Grandma or Aunt or Cousin so and so, but for some men, having a namesake is a very big deal. In fact, I have a guy friend who considers it an abomination for the first born son not to be named after his father. Ok sir, I respect your opinion.

Now, let’s talk creativity.

I will admit that when I was younger and fantasized about what I might name my children someday, I thought it would be cool to give my baby girl a traditional boy name or at least a girl name that could be turned into a boy nickname. You know, like Cory, or Alex, or Frankie. (I was really into that 90’s TV show, “Sisters.”) Of course, it could have just been the early signs of my feminist tendencies to redefine gender stereotypes. But I digress.


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People also love to get VERY creative with spelling. You know – anything to make a kid’s name especially unique. I, myself, happen to have a rather interestingly spelled middle name. Let me just say, it includes an apostrophe.

Needless to say, I put a lot of thought into my daughter’s name. I chose a first and middle name, both Hebrew in origin, with meanings that reflected my challenging, but faithful journey into motherhood. Gabrielle, which means “God is my strength” and Eliana, which means “My prayers have been answered.”

Taralyn and Gabby Final
But as a single mom, I also had one other particularly important consideration to make – my baby’s last name. I was not in any hurry to get married and thought long and hard about how to handle this.

Even given my propensity to push against traditional values, my Southern, Christian upbringing gave me some pause concerning my single parent status. And as a black woman, I was very sensitive about feeding into some offensive and often unwarranted stereotypes about black single mothers. So, I was tempted to give my daughter her father’s last name as if it might somehow negate my daughter’s “illegitimacy.” But I realized that either way, my last name wasn’t going to change. Not to mention the fact that my daughter was very much legitimate in every way that mattered to me. Ultimately, I compromised with her father and chose to hyphenate my daughter’s last name.

That decision has since brought with it a few inconveniences that I didn’t quite anticipate. Like, when someone from her school mistakenly calls me Mrs. So and So, and my left eye twitches a little. Or, when one of Gabby’s last names is inevitably dropped for the sake of space on a recital program. (And I have to confess that when it’s mine that gets dropped, my right eye twitches.) Or, the fact that some kid in her class will eventually ask her to explain why she has two last names.


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On the other hand, Gabby’s gotten a little creative, as of late. I noticed on some of her school papers that she’s writing her first name followed by just the first two letters of her last names. Kind of like Louis C.K. (but without all the cursing.)

Look, there are some who strictly believe if the parents aren’t married, and in particularly if the father isn’t very involved, that the baby should have the mother’s last name. Period. And I understand that. I also respect a woman’s right to choose. And in the case of little boys, again, I understand that men often want a son to carry on the family name. But I think it’s the intention behind the naming that gives it real meaning.

Honestly, if I had it to do over again, I don’t know if I’d give Gabby two last names. But for now, I’ve decided to leave it as is. Perhaps when she gets older, she’ll decide to change it. And that’s her choice.

The most important name I have for her, though, is MY DAUGHTER.


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View Comments (3)
  • Amen! I’m a single mother as well, and I must admit it was alot of fun picking names on my own, because my son’s father chose not to be involved. It also made me the single point of failure if my son didn’t like his name though! He also has my last name, and even today, he is fiercely proud of it. But the point is, our kids will be proud of whatever name we give them, so long as we sound that name with positive thoughts and love. Thanks for sharing!

    • I agree, Tiffany! You never really know for sure how the decisions you make as a parent – including baby naming- will impact your child. But you’re right, the love is what matters. And it sounds like your son knows exactly where his comes from. Thanks for the comment love! Always glad to get feedback from my fellow single mamas!

  • After getting married I decided to keep my maiden name, I’m from a big city in Canada and this is common practice. I am still happily married and we now have 3 children, all who go by their father’s last name. This has created some confusion, mix-ups and wild assumptions over years but I have no intention of changing my name. My kids know who they are, and I get to keep a piece of my family history. We love our family unit but Mom just spells her last name a little differently.

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