The Name Game-post 2


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.

Ramona Statue, Grant Park, Portland, OR

Ramona Statue, Grant Park, Portland, Oregon

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.


My grandmother Leone (left) at my mother's wedding to Carl Sagan

My grandmother Leone (left) at my mother’s wedding to Carl Sagan

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.


Recent posts you might like:
The Name Game-post 1
If You’re Pregnant, The Swine Flu Vaccine May Not Be Safe
When A Baby Spits Up Blood

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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24 thoughts on “The Name Game-post 2”

  1. I so enjoyed this post, Jennifer! It’s so interesting to read about the origins of people’s name choices, and it’s especially interesting in this case: Your children’s names are so unique!

    My husband and I don’t have children yet, but we’ve been talking names for a couple years. I even bought him a book of sci-fi baby names for Christmas one year. Unfortunately, no one seems to like the odd baby names I choose! I was shot down on both Lusa (from my favorite Barbara Kingsolver novel; we gave the name to our new kitten) and Olive. My husband’s now hating on the name Annabelle (a variation on my grandmother’s name). ::sigh:: At least we both agree on a boy’s name: Zachary.
    .-= stephanerd´s last blog ..Knowing My Own Self-Worth =-.

  2. This is a lovely story. We have some unusual names in our family. I’m Brette, which my parents decided to “feminize” with an extra ‘e’. We named our daughter Quinne, and added an ‘e’ in the same way. I had always loved the name and chose it within days of becoming pregnant. Our son was harder. As I said to the pediatrician, once you have a Quinne, you can’t exactly name the next one Joe. We ended up going with Zayne, and made up a spelling we liked, but he got an ‘e’ at the end too.

  3. I loved this post! Thanks for sharing all these intimate details of your family’s life.

    My parents chose names that had been in our family on my father’s side: Alexandra and Nicholas. The Alexandra I was named after was a doughty old matron in St. Petersburg circa 1860. When someone younger in the family suggested getting connection to the telegraph, she snorted, “What’s wrong with my messenger?” What a different world! Still, I am proud to carry her name.

    Speaking of Alexandra, my niece in France wanted to give her daughter my name but felt it was too long (?) so she called the child Alexia. My granddaughter has Alexia as her middle name. I wanted them to call her Beatrice after my mom and the son’s wife’s mother, but they went with Juliette Alexia.

    My ex-husband and I named our son Paul Andre after our fathers. We chose Natalie after a child we knew and both loved. Stephanie was a name we simply liked. My third child always complained that she was never the only “Stephanie” in her class because after Princess Grace chose the name, millions of mothers throughout France did the same. More than you ever wanted to know????

    I like the way you chose names after such careful thought. In France, we had to declare the name as soon as the baby was born.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..What Google Searches Lead to Chezsven Blog? =-.

  4. That is one unbelievably sweet baby. I always favored the Native method of naming people–you get one name at birth, another during childhood, and your final name at adulthood, and you also have a secret soul name that no one ever gets to learn. For me, this expresses (among other things) the utter ridiculousness of trying to capture a tiny being’s personality in one word.

  5. We went to the hospital without names. Apparently 9 months wasn’t enough for us to figure it out. Every day after I delivered, the Social Security lady would come in and harass us. Finally, on Day 4, before I was discharged, we settled on names for the twins that we found in the book. Not too creative…

  6. We named our daughter Teal, which was my great-great grandmother’s maiden name and the middle name of both my great grandfather and uncle. Our son’s middle name is Clift, which is my mother’s maiden name. I love the name you ended up picking out, Jennifer.
    .-= ruth pennebaker´s last blog ..Sixty Things I

  7. Dina and I wrote names we liked on a refrigerator list and if the other didn’t like it, it had to stay up on the list for 3 days before you could scratch it off. Names can grow on you and it only takes one bad experience from someone in the past to ruin a good name by association. But when I wrote “Camille” down one day, that was it. We stopped playing the game.

  8. My Kentuckian dad was named for the family’s beloved bird dog, Bobby. My grandparents later insisted it was the other way around, until we discovered a photo of Bobby the dog taken years before Bobby the boy was even born!

  9. I don’t have kids yet, so this reminds me of naming our family’s cat. My brother and I spent weeks going back and forth. He vetoed every character name from the musical Cats. I vetoed all his weird-sounding names, and eventually we agreed on Eleanor (short for Eleanor Roosevelt). My parents wanted to name me Jennifer, but it was really popular the year I was born, so they settled on Susan instead.
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog ..Happy Thanksgiving! =-.

  10. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer. Naming a human being is a huge responsibility (seems presumptuous, almost), so I love it that you all took this to heart. Beautiful name, too. . .

    (Carl Sagan?!)

  11. My mother wanted to name me Annabelle after my paternal grandmother. As it turns out, she hated her name and told my mother “do not dare name her that..” and she named me Claudine (which I do like–even though the meaning is lousy). When I had a daughter I wanted the ultimate pretty girly name. I remembered that my grandmother said my mom couldn’t name me Annabelle. So, I named my daughter Annabelle. 😉 The bigger plus is that my Maternal Grandmother, my absolute favorite person ever, had ginormous Annabelle Hydrangeas in front of her house that she adored. I think of her every time I say my daughter’s name.
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..It

  12. Laura, you read that right. My mom met Carl Sagan when she was 16 years old at the University of Chicago. They married when she was 19 and had their first child, my oldest brother, Dorion, when she was 21. There’s a great profile of her in this month’s On Wisconsin magazine. You can read the first two paragraphs and access the rest of the article here:
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Lynn Margulis profiled in

  13. Claudine, I love the name Annabelle (and I love the name Claudine also). And that’s such a lovely story that your mom’s mom had beautiful Annabelle hydrangeas. That makes your daughter’s name even more special.

    Interestingly, 10 years ago when I thought we would name our oldest daughter Leone my mom reacted badly, saying she didn’t think she wanted to call our baby her mother’s name (fraught relationship). But this time, now that she’s 10 years older and wiser, she was delighted with the name…
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Lynn Margulis profiled in

  14. Jennifer, I so loved reading about the story behind your naming this special baby. There’s so much emotion that goes into naming, isn’t there? I was so convinced that my two sons were girls (each time) that I didn’t even have boy names picked out. So we ended up giving them “male” versions of those names for their middle and first names (Alexandra morphed into Alexander; Gillian morphed into Jonathan).

  15. Such a great read. This is always such a hot topic; when I worked at BabyCenter our baby name search was the “killer app” that put us on the map. And so funny to see Selene; that was also a top choice for my daughter, whose name is Linnea; so you chose Leone, I chose Linnea, but we both had Selene as a backup!

  16. I love the name Leone! Francesca was on our short list; my mother is Frances, although she has always hated her name.

    It took us ten days to name Jacob Walter, with plenty of disagreement and postpartum hormones involved, and then we unknowingly named him a name that became incredibly popular that year!

    My daughter is named after her grandmother; it’s a special blessing to be sure.

    I really enjoyed hearing how you came to name your new baby daughter. Enjoy! She looks so snuggly and sweet.

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