Even before we found out Dawn was pregnant--possibly even before we were trying to have children--Dawn and I were in search of names for our kids. Usually, when we found ourselves driving some long distance, we would play our own little name game. We'd just try to think up names, usually for one sex. The weirder the name was, the better it was. Some of them ended up being serious candidates for when we had children, but mostly we came up with appellations we would never inflict on a person. (I apologize, in advance, if any of these are your name. You might want to talk to your parents about their doing so, too.)
Anyway, we again played this game while we were driving our rented Toyota Camry between Orlando and Sarasota in January during a little trip to Florida to visit Dawn's friend Dyan, who had just had her daughter. Dyan and her husband Mike named the little girl Chelsea, a monicker we would never be cruel enough to tack on to an innocent baby. Some names are odd, but naming a defenseless little girl after a neighborhood in New York City seems a bit much.
``Amaryllis,'' I'd say.
``Esther,'' Dawn would reply.
``Mackenzie.'' (Dawn's friend Kelly actually named her first daughter Mackenzie. I told her she was just begging for Schneider to start showing up at her door. (Those of you who got that joke may be excused for the duration of the period.))
``Dinah,'' I offered.
``Shore!'' Dawn enthused, ``Although I think Kirstie is more up my Alley.''
But often, we came up with even more awful and bothersome monickers for our as-of-then-undreamt-of children. Another time, we were playing with girls' names again, since we already had a kaboodle of good and bad boys' names to affix to our unsuspecting male children.
``Brittany,'' she offered.
``Over my dead body,'' I declared. ``Agnieska.'' (Agnieska was my paternal-twice-over great-great-grandmother's name. It's Polish.)
``Brittany,'' Dawn insisted.
``Why not name her after other French provinces? How about Gaul?''
``Normandy, I like that. Normandy.''
``Brittany.'' (Sometimes I think my wife could teach a thing or two about tenacity to a bulldog.)
We were heading to my parents' house from the New Jersey Turnpike, and the last part of this conversation took place on line for paying the toll. I looked ahead and saw that the toll booth operator for our line was a woman--or maybe a girl, I don't know if she was older than I. (How I am able to spot a female at such a distance when I can't read street signs from my car I'll never know.)
``Okay,'' I told Dawn, ``Let's see what the toll-taker's name is, and we'll name our daughter that.''
We pulled up and Dawn rolled down her window, and as the toll booth operator leaned out, I read her name tag, prominently displayed on her chest:
``Dawn'' it read.
So much for that idea.
Personally, I think whatever child we have, they should be named ``Ute''. The Signs and Portents have told me so.
Not long before our trip in January, I had mistakenly allowed Dawn to go to the video store by herself and rent the movie of her choosing. She chose Ready to Wear, an absolutely awful movie starring Julia Roberts, which was why Dawn rented it. (Now you know who actually sees movies based on who's in them: my wife.) As the opening credits were rolling, I saw someone's first name Ute go by.
``Ute!'' I exclaimed, ``What a great name!'' I repeated it a few times for effect: ``Ute, Ute, Ute, Ute. Ute. We should name our child Ute. Ute Rywalt. What an awesome name!''
Dawn was not as enthusiastic, although she thought Ute was an amusing name.
Well, a couple of days later we were driving up to visit Dave in Connecticut, and what did we see on the license plate in front of us but the word ``UTE''. It wasn't a vanity plate, those just happened to be the first three letters of that New York State license plate. I took this as yet another Sign and Portent, this time that we should definitely name our first child Ute.
Again, Dawn was not as enthusiastic. Only I seem to recognize these Signs and Portents.
I thought for sure this next Sign and Portent was the clincher, too. In May, on my first day at my current job, I noticed my manager had one of those Mensa desk calendars with the following puzzle (note the prominent ``UTE''):
If you begin at the correct letter in the box below, move in any direction, and use each letter only once, you'll find a palindrome about a first-time appearance on TV.
BUT ETU DEB
It was not a clincher, at least not in the sense that I'd hoped. Dawn still didn't think ``Ute'' was a good name but she did think I was a nut. And our friend Dave voiced the opinion that he was convinced that our difficulties in baby-making were caused by my sperm's being afraid that they would end up named ``Ute''. To clear up this problem, I spoke loudly to my testicles: ``I promise I will not name my child `Ute'!''
But I kept my fingers crossed. Do you think they noticed?
I happen to know how my parents chose both my name and the name of my sister. They were actually looking for names that wouldn't be shortened into any nickname they considered nasty--they didn't want their kid being called ``Bob'' or ``Bill'' or ``Joey'' or anything. So they named me Christopher, which only contracts to the palatable Chris, and my sister Theresa, which doesn't shorten to much of anything, except we called her ``Reese'' when she was very young. You could try calling her ``Terry,'' but only if you wanted a punch in the nose. The only person who ever got away with calling my sister ``Terry'' was the aforementioned owner of Driftstone, who as I said was the unquestioned ruler of that domain. And anyway, Theresa liked him.
This concern for nicknames seems to be a relatively recent development. Generations previous to ours, at least among the people I know, seem to have been very big on nicknames in a way we aren't. My friend Joe reports, for example, that there are still people who call his grandfather ``Skinny''. The man is eighty-five years old and is being called ``Skinny''. Joe's father has a friend named Jimmy Greek. Jimmy's last name is not ``Greek'', nor is he of Greek extraction. He gambles.
I myself had an Uncle Junior. His real name was Frank. His father--my great-grandfather--was called Billy. That wasn't his name, either, and again, his real name was Frank. And since Uncle Junior was named after his father, he became Junior, even though no one ever called his father by his real name either.
My parents are into nicknames, too, but in a weird way. They give people their names from all over. We knew a guy named ``Johnny Etna''. His name really was Johnny, but he owned a company called Etna Motors, named, not after himself, but after the volcano in Italy--Mount Etna. My parents still call one of their friends' kids ``Little Fly'', which was his CB handle way back in the late Seventies. (Remember CB's? I was ``Pink Flamingo'' and my dad was ``the Bionic Penguin''. No one calls us that any more, which is very good.) Likewise, the guy across the street they call ``Coco'', which was his CB handle back in the Dark Ages. Then there's Edalardy. At least, that's how his name is pronounced, all in one piece: Edalardy. I don't know if ``Alardy'' is Ed's last name or not.
Some people really do worry about their kid's potential nicknames, and some go so far as to get them built in. For example, our friends Craig and Kim had a boy a few months ago, and they named him Isaac Randall. They named him Isaac because they are devout Christians who weren't quite trying to have children when, whoopsie, Kim became pregnant. So they wanted to name their baby whatever the ancient Hebrew for ``God's joke'' would be. Sadly, while they are religious, they do not have the Gift of Tongues, so they don't know ancient Hebrew. But apparently, Isaac translates as ``He laughs'', which was close enough for their purposes.
But they call him Randy. To me, this is silly. If you were going to call him Randy, name him Randy, or at least Randall, in the first place. So I call him Isaac, which doesn't seem to upset him or his parents, although it makes Dawn hit me because she thinks I'm rude. In casual conversation, Dave and Joe call him Izzy, just to be difficult.
But the last time I saw Craig and Kim--they live several hours away, in Washington, D.C.--I asked them why they did this to their kid. I was afraid, I told them, that he might grow up to be one of those pompous first initial people, like C. Everett Koop or C. Thomas Howell or F. Murray Abraham or G. Gordon Liddy or something, like maybe he'd be a lawyer and call himself I. Randall Bowser. (Bowser is really their last name.)
They explained that they were attempting to end-run a nickname from her family. It seems her family gives out even weirder and worse nicknames than my own--like there's a twenty-five-year-old woman they still call ``Poopie'' or something. So they thought that by starting the kid out with a nickname they could stand, they might head her family off at the pass.
I personally can't wait to hear what they come up with.
In any case, we've narrowed down our name search. We know what we're naming our first boy: William Alan Rywalt. William is after Dawn's father, who died in 1992. And Alan is after my father, since we have a tradition stretching back two whole generations where the first (and, actually, only) son is given his paternal grandfather's name as his middle name. So my dad's name is Alan Joseph, the Joseph being after his paternal grandfather; and I'm named Christopher George, since my dad's dad is named George. (Christopher George was also, incidentally, an actor. And I took Michael as my Confirmation name, so my full name is Christopher George Michael Rywalt. But no, I do not want your sex.)
I think William Alan Rywalt is a good name, especially since the initials spell WAR, so when my son is a famous fantasy illustrator he'll have something cool with which to sign his highly-valued oil paintings.
As for daughters, well, we went round and round on this one. But we finally came down to Kelly, although Colleen and Angela are still in the running. I sort of think Kelly and Colleen are a little too Irish for our kid, who will be mostly of Italian ancestry, with some German, Polish, French, and a little bit of Irish thrown in. Dawn thinks Angela is too Italian, of all things. Of course, our child will really be American--so maybe Running Sap or Eats Much Dessert Woman would be more appropriate.
But I'm still pushing for Ute.