My daughter’s name is Abbie, not Abigail. My son’s name is Charlie, not Charles. Their names are not just Abbie and Charlie. Their names are real and full, and they are the names my husband and I chose for them. They are the names that define their very existence. So please respect their names as such.
Let me back up and give a bit more context as to why I am getting so defensive about their names. I still feel guilty about the times when I sheepishly/ cowardly/ passive-aggressively responded with a “No, their name is just…” when someone automatically assumed their names needed something more. It happened at playgrounds, libraries, supermarkets, and at my job. Each time I said “just,” I wanted to vomit or scream. (Oh, and that one time I wrote “just” in an email after receiving an insurance card with the name Charles on it.)
I felt ashamed that as their mother who loved their names. Why had I not stood up for them? I had submitted to the minimizing of their names, so that I could sound polite and quickly end a conversation that had just turned awkward.
Recently, I could not shake the sting of my response to an inquiring mother at a kindergarten meet and greet. I broke down to my friend via text, confessing how much “I hate (a term I almost never use) having to say just.” She quickly responded with “Say no, her name is Abbie. There is nothing else to say.” I was struck by the simplicity and strength in such a straightforward comment. How had I not thought of it before? It was more direct, and I could still deliver it in a polite voice. And most importantly, it emphasized the weight of their names.
A few weeks later, I calmly corrected someone who had been addressing my daughter as Abigail. There was “nothing else to say” besides “her name is Abbie.” The person offered a sincere apology and we exchanged a glance of mutual understanding. I texted my friend to share my feeling of pride. Pride in my ability as a mother to stand behind the beauty of my child’s name, my child’s identity.
I am sure that my children will be asked, throughout their lifetime, if their names are nicknames. I don’t know how people are going to ask them, nor do I know they are going to respond. I just hope that my children always speak with courage and clarity. That they do not let others’ assumptions or judgments swallow their voices.
To the mamas (and papas) with daughters or sons named Max, Luke, Leo, Eli, Jake, Ellie, Maisie, Emmy, Bella, and Charlie, I write for you. I wish you fewer awkward conversations (and not just because such names are gaining popularity). I hope you’ve always been stronger than me, never choking on your responses.
To every mama (and papa) out there, can we please just take a few seconds to remember how we labored over choosing the perfect name? Can we stop to just look at that child who has now imbued life into that name? You do not need to like the name that other parents choose for their child, but please, do not minimize their choice. If you want to inquire about the name, instead ask about the story behind it. It’s always more than just a name.