I didn't set out to give my kid a weird name.
Well, not really. But when The Boy was in development, we considered a lot of names, and there wasn't a John or a Michael in the bunch. We mostly considered family names, or Arabic names, since The Boy is one-fourth Lebanese, and we wanted him to be proud. So they may not have been common American names, but they were recognizable. Moses was mentioned, as was Yusef, and even Thaddeus Junior. But none of them seemed to fit the guy we were so eager to meet, even if we only knew him from ultrasounds and late-night kicks to the abdomen.
About halfway into the pregnancy, Tad started addressing The Boy by a historical sobriquet. You know, like Attila the Hun, or Henry the Lion-Hearted. It was the name of a famous ruler who presided over a magnificent empire centuries ago, where culture and progress flourished under his reign. Who was it? I haven't revealed The Boy's name in four years of Parental Rites columns, and I'm not going to start now — but there's a clue in there for the history nerds.
It started as a joke. Every time I suggested another name, Tad shot back with the sobriquet. Every time I showed him my list, he'd write in the historical name at the bottom and put a big check beside it. To be funny! Because it was kind of a funny name. It was over the top, and long, and hard to spell. Obviously not a serious contender.
And then a strange thing happened. The more I referred to The Boy by this obviously not-his-actual-name name, the more it seemed to fit him. And the less I was able to see him with any other name.
In the final days of my pregnancy, relatives would ask, with well-intentioned concern, "What are you really going to name him?" They thought we were pulling an elaborate hoax. It wasn't until they peeked into the nursery window and saw his name written on the bassinet that they believed us. Even then, I think some of them suspected a prank.
My dad had a heart-to-heart with me in the maternity ward. His parents had named their olive-skinned children Robert, Mary and Ronald, to help them assimilate. Now here I was, taking my easily assimilable, mostly white baby and saddling him with an ethnic name. People would tease him! They would make fun of his name! He would stand out!
I got where he was coming from, but that didn't mean I was going to change The Boy's name. I gently reminded him that I spent my childhood with a family-created nickname that got me teased and picked on, too; it was a boy's name, and it didn't help that I looked like a fat little boy. And I turned out OK in spite of it.
I had childhood friends who also got teased about their names. Some were too common — four Jennifers and three Kims in one class. Some shared their names with unpopular TV characters or storybook rhymes. And other names were easily altered — "Scott" became "Snot" on the playground, and poor Forrest went through third grade as "Fartgas" (sorry, Forrest). Kids find a way.
A couple of weeks ago, The Boy, now 6, developed a case of name angst. "I'm going to change my name when I grow up," he told me. "Because this name is nonsensical, and nobody else has it!" I played along, asking him what name he preferred. He got quiet. "I don't know. David?" He made a face, like he was realizing he just wasn't a David. Not that there's anything wrong with that. He trotted off to the playroom to meditate on possible identities. In a few minutes, he returned with an announcement.
"I've decided to stay who I am," he said, looking not just resigned but determined. "I'm fine with it."
I don't know what made him change his mind, but I was happy. "I'm fine with it, too," I said, and I meant it sincerely. "I love who you are, no matter what your name is." And I meant that as well.
But I also think his name is fantastic.