The stories behind the baby names chosen by parents

Naming a baby is a big responsibility — how do parents choose and what are the stories behind those choices? Andrea Mara finds out.

Generic image of a sleeping baby.

The name game Paris Raine. That’s what my first daughter would have been called if I’d stuck with the names I used to doodle on my secondary school homework journal. My second daughter was to be Kisa Blue, and my first boy would be Leaf Phoenix.

30 years later, as I browsed baby name books, I wondered if Leaf Phoenix might be a step too far, and went for a much more sensible “Matthew”.

Choosing a baby name is — depending on your outlook — a fascinating or frustrating experience in the lead up to the birth of a child, and according to new research from C&G Babyclub, 83% of Irish parents believe that naming their baby is one of the most important decisions they make for them.

Some parents keep names to themselves, avoiding uninvited opinions (I learned this lesson the hard way) while others ask friends or family or Facebook groups for inspiration.

But what do parents take into account when choosing? I asked an expectant mother and some well-known Irish parents to share their stories.

Laura Moran has two boys, Darragh and Luke, and is due her third baby next month. She says the first thing she considers is her surname.

“I don’t want to pick anything that will rhyme or has the same initial or is a bit of a mouthful. Then I see if it ‘goes’ with the other kids names.

"And I consider if the name will suit them as an adult; I want them to have a ‘strong’ name.”

Of course her boys who are eight and six have opinions too. “Yes, this time around is a bit tougher because they’re giving their input aswell. I might come across a name I think is lovely and they’ll shoot it down with

“Eeew that’s gross” and — shamefully really — it sways me. I want us all to love it.”

Laura, who blogs at ConfessionsOfAnIrishMammy.com, doesn’t have this problem with her husband. “If my husband was any more laid back about names he’d fall over! So far, we have one boy name and one girl name that we’re confident about.

"And by confident I mean I’m happy and he says, ‘Yeah, they’re grand’.”

For Laura, or anyone else considering names for a 2018 baby, the predictions are in.

According to UK magazine Mother & Baby, boy names starting with R or Th are on the rise, like Reggie, Reuben, and Theo; as are girl names with a V sound, such as Evelyn and Ivy. Here in Ireland, according to CSO listings, Emily, Grace Ava, James, Jack, and Daniel are holding strong, but more unusual names like Kayla, Sienna, Willow, Kai, Luca, and Logan have hit the top 100 too.

Sarah Breen's children India Matthews (4) and Esme Matthews (1).

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, where names can be turned down, recently rejected names include Majesty,

Justice, and Triple M. And in the States, biotechnologist David Taylor has analysed Social Security data to identify the “trendiest” name in US history — looking at names that rise and fall steeply in popularity — and it turned out to be Linda.

So what about the stories behind the names? I asked Sarah Breen, co-author of the bestselling Oh My God What A Complete Aisling how she picked her children’s names.

“My eldest daughter is named India and before you ask: no, she wasn’t conceived there. Are you thinking about her conception now? Sorry! You’d be surprised how many people have quizzed me about that. Indigo was also on the table but India won out on the day and I think it suits her.

"To me it’s quite an old-fashioned name, although it seems to be gaining popularity now. My youngest is Esme, inspired by a co-worker’s sister. She called the office during my pregnancy when we were desperately scrambling for a name and it was a lightbulb moment — although I’ve since learned she spells it ‘Esmée’, which is far more glamorous. India’s middle name is Una, after my grandmother and Esme’s is Eileen, after my husband’s.

"It’s a nice way to remember two very important women in our lives and gives us an excuse to tell the girls all about them.”

As for Aisling, the fictional star of the book Sarah co-wrote with Emer McLysaght, is her name still in fashion? According to the new CSO baby-name calculator, it is — there were 77 born in 2016. It peaked in 1990 with 471 babies — which is, as it happens, 28-year-old Aisling’s era.

Broadcaster and writer Maia Dunphy says her son Tom’s name was a no-brainer.

“He’s the first grandchild on my side of the family, so we named him after my dad. I love strong, solid names for boys, so luckily my dad was the owner of just such a name! It means a lot to have a Tom Jr in the family.

Maia Dunphy with son Tom (2)

"My husband is known as Johnny, but his real name was Michael — I only call him this if he’s in trouble though. His other son, my stepson, is Michael Jr, so we have two boys with names that run in the family.” Maia, whose book The M Word is for “women who happen to be parents” says she likes to keep things simple when it comes to names.

“I’m not a fan of avant-garde names for babies unless there’s a good reason! But I’m also not giving any examples of what I mean by that! I may still have a touch of baby-brain, but I’m not that foolish!”

Like me, TV presenter Lucy Kennedy always knew what she wanted to call her children — her ideas were  just far more sensible than mine.

“We have a Jack, Holly, and Jess. All my life I said that if I had a boy, that I’d call him Jack and if I had a girl that she would be Holly and my husband Richard felt the exact same so when our consultant said ‘it’s a boy’, we looked at each other and said ‘it’s Jack’! The same happened when Holly arrived. Then Richard picked the name Jessica which I loved. She’s now Jess.”

For broadcaster Alison Curtis, there’s a poignant story behind her daughter’s name.

“Joan was my mother’s name and she sadly passed away when I was 19.

"She was actually born Elizabeth Joan but when she was younger her parents started calling her Joan instead and I think there is a strong, feisty, and fun personality associated with that name. It matched my mother’s personality and I see it now in my daughter.

"When I became pregnant I really felt I was having a little girl and I felt very strongly about naming her Joan and thankfully my husband adored the name as well. It’s so sweet because Joan always says ‘I’m the only Joan I know’ so it’s definitely unusual for her generation!”

For some inspiration, check out this baby name generator with over 50,000 baby names to explore.

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