What’s in a baby name? Hopes, dreams, history… guilt

The Daddy Diary: Part Four – The Name Game

An expecting father navigates the dangerous waters of choosing a baby name that works in English and Portuguese — and isn’t associated with pole dancing

Daddy Diary

By Chris Lackner

Singer Shirley Ellis made it sound easy: “Come on everybody! I say now let’s play a game.” But The Name Game is anything but easy – especially when your baby’s name has to resonate not only across two families, but two languages and two cultures.

Case in point: girl names are unexpectedly complicated when the mother-to-be is Brazilian. I think our first conversation on the subject went something like this.

“How about Cindy?”

“No.”

“Brittney?”

“No.”

“Amy?”

“No… all those common gringo girl names are the top stripper names in Brazil.”

With that, our search was already narrowed dramatically. We needed a name that was both recognizable in Brazilian Portuguese and English, and that wasn’t associated with pole dancing.

And, of course, we already faced the common couple veto list: Names we associate with people we don’t like. For starters, the names of bullies, idiots, enemies, forgettable bosses, exes (you don’t want to see a jealous South American) and black-sheep relatives. Then there’s the names of entertainment and sports celebs you loathe (so no Gwyneth, Peyton, Alex or Rodriguez). You also need to rule out names ruined by infamous people (with apologies to anyone named Donald, Bill, Paris etc.). And fourth, you cross off names that are just too popular in your country right now (I fear the boys in our little one’s school classes will inevitably be populated by 50 per cent Justins).

With that, our search was already narrowed dramatically. We needed a name that was both recognizable in Brazilian Portuguese and English, and that wasn’t associated with pole dancing.

Of course, your aim is to pick a name with personal meaning. My wife and I have a shared love of jazz and actually met (even though we are in our late 30s and not late 70s) at a jukebox. Not surprisingly, Ella, Nina and Etta were early top-tier candidates.

Personal icons – fictional and real – naturally, came up. For the record, neither Robert Dylan, James T. Kirk or Optimus Prime cleared it with my wife.

We discovered that boys’ names, in general, are lacking. We could agree on 20 girl candidates before even finding one consensus boy option.

There are other cards to play in The Name Game, of course: The gender neutral card (e.g. Ashley, Aaron/Erin); the cute-when-they’re-little-but-not-when-they’re-older-card (e.g. Spring, Hope, Crystal, Macaulay Culkin etc.); the classics card (e.g. Rose, Audrey, Francisco); the Biblical card or “classic classics” like Jacob, Gabriel or, if you’re feeling particularly cruel, Ezekiel; the magnet for mean schoolyard nicknames card (essentially anything that vaguely rhymes with a body part or swear word (e.g. Dick, Buck, Lou, Lee, Celeste, Regina); the tribute to a grandparent card (unless any of said names are countered by another undesirable card); the nod to greatness that sounds too pretentious card (e.g. Pelé, Clark Kent).

Of course, the storyteller in me stretched the boundaries a bit during our naming discussions. I still firmly believe a child named after a Fraggle (Red, Gobo or Mokey), a member of The A-Team (e.g. Baracas), or a character from The Jungle Book (Baloo, Bagheera or Akela) or Game of Thrones (Jon Snow, Ygritte, Littlefinger) are a great starting point in life. My love of myth and legend also led to heartfelt arguments for the likes of Odin, Thor, Lancelot, Poseidon and Aphrodite… so it’s a good thing my wife is a much better, and louder (remember, she’s Brazilian) debater.

We never settled on a boy’s name, but a top contender for a girl emerged after months of marathon chats and list-making. Luckily, after refusing to uncross her legs during mom’s first ultrasound, we recently learned a little daughter is in the cards. The nurse said this is 95% certain, so there’s a 1% chance The Name Game will begin anew the moment the labour ends.)

My love of myth and legend also led to heartfelt arguments for the likes of Odin, Thor, Lancelot, Poseidon and Aphrodite… so it’s a good thing my wife is a much better, and louder (remember, she’s Brazilian) debater.

We wanted a girl’s name that reflected something about our relationship and was empowering, but also meant something in both our cultures. I’m proud to reveal we will soon welcome tiny Coraline into the world.

An old name, with Greek and English roots, Coraline means “from the coral of the sea” – the ocean and swimming being a shared passion of her parents. The name resurfaced largely thanks to Neil Gaiman’s children’s novel of the same name, which was turned into a stunning animated film in 2009.

Gaiman is my favourite author, so the name Coraline seemed a fitting nod to the fertile imagination and love of words – and reading – we hope to cultivate in our baby. Gaiman is also a master of finding magic in the mundane, enchantment in the everyday, and hidden worlds of wonder within our own. (I can’t think of a better blueprint for fatherhood.)

Coraline tells the tale of a quirky, young girl who – armed solely with courage, intelligence and ingenuity – makes all the right, tough choices in order to defeat a powerful, otherworldly foe. We hope to equip our Coraline with the same tools – even if her own battles are more prosaic. And we can only hope to make right, tough choices as parents to help guide her down her chosen path. Adventure, and brave new worlds, wait for us all.

Gaiman is my favourite author, so the name Coraline seemed a fitting nod to the fertile imagination and love of words – and reading – we hope to cultivate in our baby. Gaiman is also a master of finding magic in the mundane, enchantment in the everyday, and hidden worlds of wonder within our own. (I can’t think of a better blueprint for fatherhood.)

On the other side of the linguistic coin, Coraline translates to Coralina in Portuguese. Cora Coralina is a famous Brazilian writer and poet born in 1889 who lived 95 extraordinary years. We feel she’s another shining example and role model for our daughter.

Like the famous reef off Australia defined by our baby’s colourful namesake, we look forward to watching Coraline grow into something Great. On to adventure No. 1: labour.

Cora Coralina Chris Lackner

Self-taught Brazilian poet Cora Coralina wrote: Recreate your life, always, always/ Remove the stones, plant rose bushes and make sweets/ Begin again.

THE EX-PRESS, August 17, 2016

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