One of my favorite girls’ names is Ramona.
According to our name books (we own several), it means “wise protector” and is derived from archaic French. I love how it sounds. And we love the spunky, willful, imaginative Ramona who Beverly Cleary writes about. Plus, there’s a novel by Helen Hunt Jackson, a little known 19th-century American writer, called Ramona.
I also like Ramona because it’s a name few people have but everyone has heard of and knows how to pronounce.
“We hate it!” Hesperus, Athena, and Etani all agreed when I proposed Ramona as a possibility before the baby was born. “It’s ugly. It’s a terrible name, Mommy. No way.”
“Definitely not Ramona,” James said.
Then one day James came home with some super fancy anti-oxidant rich Ramona chocolate ice cream.
He held up the carton as he unpacked the groceries. “I’ve been trying to reconsider. I bought this ice cream because you like the name so much.”
Yet when the baby was born, she didn’t look like a Ramona.
She also didn’t look like a Selene, one of the family’s favorite names all along.
Selene means “moon” in Greek and is the name of a lesser known moon goddess. Hesperus had even been calling the baby Selene before she was born.
A woman I talked with about unassisted birth when we were trying to decide whether to do it that way had six children (including unexpected twins) unassisted and her only daughter’s name was Selene. Plus the moon was full two days before my labor and I remember gazing at it the night the contractions started and thinking how bright and beautiful it was.
But even Hesperus, though she couldn’t explain why, thought that the name wasn’t quite right for this baby.
That left us with two more favorites: Phoebe, which means bright or shining in Greek and is also used as a synonym for the moon, and Francesca, which we all agreed was a beautiful name.
If we named her Francesca it would be after St. Francis of Assisi. James and I both love this gentle saint, who watches out for animals, the environment, and Italy, and we both love the town of Assisi. Plus we liked the idea of giving the baby an Italian name.
We talked about it at dinner one night, while Babykins (that’s what we called her for nine days) slept in my arms.
“I like Francesco,” Etani said, “but–”
“Francesca!” Hesperus interrupted.
“But I can’t remember it and it’s hard for me to say, and that’s not fair!”
“I keep thinking of her as an Alexandra,” James admitted. “I don’t know why.”
“Not Alexandra!” Hesperus cried. “That’s such a common name. I’ve known, like, TWO Alexandras in school. And we all have unusual names that have special meanings, and how would she feel if her name were plain old Alexandra?”
That was when it came to me. Not Alexandra. Not Selene. Not Francesca. Not Phoebe. We needed to name the baby Leone.
Leone was my grandmother’s name. Jewish, probably of Lithuanian descent, she was born on Valentine’s Day in 1914 and grew up in a partially Yiddish speaking family in Great Falls, Montana. We had considered naming our first child Leone but when Hesperus was born she was so calm and twinkly, like a star (Hesperus is the name of the evening star that was brilliant in the sky the last three months of that pregnancy, it’s a synonym for the planet Venus).
My grandmother died when I was eight but I remember her contagious wheezy laughter, her green silk nightgown with matching high heeled green pom-pom’ed slippers, the bowl of colorful mint-covered chocolates in her house in Waban, Massachusetts, and her mischievous sparkling green eyes. She had four daughters who all gave birth to or adopted sons. Until my cousin Rebecca was born, I was her only granddaughter. She was feisty and kind; she spoiled me and made me feel loved.
This baby, unlike her sisters, looked like a Leone. I whispered the name into her sweet-smelling scalp and she nuzzled closer to me.
James frowned. Leone wasn’t even on our short list. He was excited to choose from Francesca, Selene, and Phoebe and all of a sudden I was wanting to call the baby Leone.
We stayed up late talking that night and I told James he was thinking of our daughter as Alexandra because Alexander was my grandmother’s last name.
When he remained unconvinced the next day and the day after that, I started feeling miserable. Since James and I usually agree on so much about parenting, that we were disagreeing about her name made me despondent.
I knew her name should be Leone. Athena and Etani both loved it (Hesperus was holding out for Francesca and thought Leone should be her middle name). The baby looked like a Leone. And since we weren’t planning to have any more, this was my last chance to name a child after my grandmother.
“If I die or decide to divorce me, you can have more children,” I said in tears. “I don’t have that option.”
Seeing how upset I was, and how much the name meant to me, James finally relented. We decided he could pick the baby’s middle name. He chose Francesca.
Leone Francesca, sleepy, floppy, funny-faced little person that you are, it took us nine days to name you but we’ve been so glad you are here since the moment you arrived. Welcome to the world.
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How did you come up with your child’s name? How did your parents choose yours? Share your naming stories in the comment section below.
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