Commentary: Baby Names

Buffalo, NY – So, my sister-in-law is pregnant and due soon. And although I'm dying to ask their baby name choices, I don't dare. I know they're not tellin'. See, yet-to-be-born baby names are often a secret these days. Many expectant parents are concerned that nosy people like me will offer unasked for opinions. Regardless, this new family pregnancy has me thinking about names. I mean, what if my sister-in-law and brother-in-law want their child to work for NPR someday? They had better start planning now. It would be a shame if my niece or nephew couldn't get an internship in public radio because his or her name was too run-of-the-mill. I want to tell my sister-in-law - take the NPR test...see if your baby-to-be's name passes.

Sylvia Poggioli...Alex Chadwick...Ivan Watson...Cokie Roberts. Surely the mothers of these babies were planning even as they popped prenatal vitamins. "No, Amy won't do," they muttered, "We need a national public radio name." Whenever I listen to NPR, I imagine having such a name myself. What fun it must be to say, every day, several times a day, "I'm Snigdha Prakash." If I were an NPR reporter, I'd practice saying my cool name over and over just the way I practiced writing my plain name all over spiral notebooks in junior high. Seriously, Don't you wonder if Michele Norris wasn't just Michelle before she took her job at NPR?

I want to urge my husband's sister to choose her child's name by saying it over and over, prefaced by, "I'm..." To be alliterative, as in "I'm Korva Colman." "I'm Bob Boilin." "I'm Scott Simon." If it's a boy, think Ira. That always works -- Ira Glass, Ira Flatow...you know. Try saying the name with different inflections. With a microphone. I long to encourage my sister-in-law and brother-in-law to couple their baby names with important cities of the world as in "In Rome, I'm Ketzel Levine" or "In Washington, I'm Lakshmi Singh." I want to scream, "Listen to the sounds of the vowels. Will those consonants sound good on the air?"

A good name choice is not an accident. Having named 3 children, I know. Upon discovering I was pregnant with girl #2, I took to my baby name book in earnest. Each time I opened it, I felt just how I feel when checking our refrigerator for snacks at midnight, ever-hopeful to find something new in there. So night after night, week after week, month after month, I scoured that book for new names. Not surprisingly, night after night, week after week, month after month, I read the same names over and over again.

At last I found the perfect girl name -- Violet. See, we love plants. Love Snoopy cartoons. Love the unusual. Our daughter's name would be Violet. People were pretty nice about it when we told them. Not one person laughed. It was I who finally realized that if we stuck with this moniker, our daughter, Violet VanDerwater, would not have the autograph of an NPR reporter, but of a headline stripper. Back to the book.

Of course, even if our mothers/sisters/friends/fathers and cousins didn't initially like the names we chose for our own children, it doesn't matter now. Our kids have all lived into their names. Just as they grew into those clothes we thought would always be too big, most all of us grow into our names. So, to my husband's pregnant sister and her husband, I offer just one piece of unsolicited advice, "Don't worry about what name you choose for your child's life -- that will work itself out. And don't worry about telling me your choices." But as you're knitting those booties, think NPR and ask yourself, "Is this baby name suitable for a lifetime of repetition on national public radio?"

I'm Aimee Ludveeg VanDaWaTerre...no...I'm Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.

Listener-Commentator Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writing teacher who lives in Holland. Click the "listen" icon above to hear the commentary now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.