"Get this," I overheard a 30-something woman say to her friend as they slouched around at a Los Angeles coffee shop. "I met a kid the other day named Face."
"Whuut?" her companion guffawed.
"Well, it was spelled F-A-I-C-E," the woman explained. "But still."
I use this example of baby-naming convos being had out in the world, not just because that woman is mega-irritating — Faice has gotta be a family name, and I'm guessing probably from a family of people not wearing those Tevas, ma'am — but because I was all set to tell you how to name your kid without fucking it up. But perhaps there is no such formula. The truth is, we're all just running around trying to do the best we can with our lives and our faces in spite of what we're called/Faiced. Or maybe because of it.
And therein lies the rub. Aside from actually creating your kid, arguably the next most powerful thing you will do is give it a name. To label is to own, to define, to frame. (Ask that comet guy.) People treat picking out a baby name like it's as fun and easy as scheduling a C-section, but it is, in fact, fraught the fuck with complete mayhem. It is about as easy as curating an art collection in the dark - to say nothing of the great potential for namer's remorse.
There's so much to consider, from the tone, to the syllabic presentation to the rhythm, to whether it has been shown in studies to actually prevent your son or daughter from ever being made a CEO. (Want your daughter to run a company one day? Give her a one-syllable, serious-sounding name, like Kate.)
Then, there are are issues of precedent — is there a family legacy at stake? Do you want your baby to sound cool? Artistic? Nice? Traditional? Fearless? To name is to aspire in absentia, and you have only at your disposal this measly string of letters (you can name a kid Seven but not 7) that will precede your child throughout its entire life.
Last, but most certainly not least, is whether or not your chosen name seems to "suit" this person you are naming. But how can anyone actually figure this out pre-birth, much less in the typically allotted six weeks post-birth, is a mystery to me. A baby blob is just a blobby blob. You can't be all, "This is so obviously a Jennifer." And if you can, please start a business offering this service to new parents in the Greater Los Angeles area.
When it came time to name my baby, I was all, "Better not screw this up!" because one false move and she suddenly inherits a lifetime of not being taken seriously or, perhaps worse, being taken TOO seriously. Or maybe even worse, having a name that rhymes with "dumbass" when I really meant for it to rhyme with "has class."
Because the thing about a baby name is that it really needs to do only one thing, and it's got to have traction over the course of an ENTIRE LIFETIME: Make everyone think the person with this name is destined for greatness. That's it. The type of greatness is mostly irrelevant, this name just has to move a resume to the top of the pile, get phone calls returned and ears pricked up when perused or uttered (all kinds of ears, too - from romantic to job prospect-y to money-lending to guest lists and all various and sundry social outings in between). And, let's be honest, it should probably also look good on the back of a satin jacket.
I am, obviously, named Tracy. This name basically says, "Hi, I'm just a regular person who was born in America in the mid-to-late ‘70s and am probably somewhat androgynous." I went to school with three other Tracys, and two of those Tracys were dudes.
In spite of having the whole cutesy ends in "y" or "ie" thing so common in female names, a convention that tends to make people think of you as a kid more than a grown-up (Billy, Bobby, Jenny, and so on), my name kind of just sounds like a very generic, run-of-the-mill name to me, had by famous comedians and also porn stars-turned-actresses.
If you are named Tracy and doing something awesome, I'm willing to wager that it's not because of the name — it's in spite of it. But isn't this kind of the point? The world is filled with Chloes wishing they were called something more normal like Sarah, and all Sarahs are probably longing to be Beatrices. Grass is greener, naming edition.
And yet, most people don't go legally changing their first name. Perhaps we are all reconciled to this odd facet of our identities, that we are not responsible for our names. That this is part of the deal - being conjured without asking for it - going through life as the genetic expression of someone else's longing incarnate, even the very thing we are called the mark of someone else's whims.
It's just that this whim will be used to address you, to arrange you, be in love with you, yell at you, hate you, envy you, to designate you on the official grid and all the things that can happen in a life. It is inextricably linked, forever and ever amen, to the essence of you, from doodles to drivers license. And it is often conceived before you are.
I've been on earth for a hot minute, and I still find it strange to read my own name, like the way when you say a word over and over and over again it starts to lose all meaning. Finagle finagle finagle finagle finagle.
What's stranger to me is the way your name becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: You are a person who has spent your whole life being a Tracy, meaning you are like how you think a Tracy should be, or you're the opposite, you are like how you are because you don't feel like a Tracy at all. Even weirder: When someone says after meeting you, "You don't look like a Tracy." Preposterous!
In the end, a name really says far more about the giver's preferences and intent, and I think that the most we can do in naming our offspring is to be responsible and accountable in doing so. When it doubt, a good story goes a very long way. This is ours:
Once upon a time we conjured a baby, and, of course, we named her. We went with the 100-year rule, picking a name that was popular 100 years ago, all but guaranteeing that no one else in your classroom will have it (tip: the 1940 census is a goldmine of awesomely old names). Obviously, we put a premium on individuality. Well, that and the usual stuff: good luck, success, the riches that make living easier. Oh yes, and a name that means a winner of the spoils of war. You see, we both feel as parents that our job is to impart all the best tools for navigating the world as it is, so that you may more effectively change it. Life is rewarding but hard, and the important thing is to have courage. Happy warfaring! (P.S. We also just liked the way it sounded.)
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. You can follow her on Twitter at @iusedtobepoor.
Image via Ronald Sumners/Shutterstock.