Bad luck

I spent a large portion of my childhood in my bedroom with my door closed, either reading books or writing. Sometimes I wrote in my journal, sometimes I'd write stories, and lots of times I just made lists of names. I was obsessed with names; I read baby name books from cover to cover, and on my dinky little word processor I made endless spreadsheets of my favorites. Girl and boys names, with meaning, country of origin, alternate spellings, possible nicknames. "A" list names, which would be suitable for future children or future protagonists of the novels I would someday write when my lists of names were complete; "B" list names for middle names or secondary characters.

My taste wasn't the best when I was younger. I preferred baroque spellings - Kourtenaye, Robynn, Kyleigh; I liked names with a foreign flair -- Katacia, Damek, Acacia. I abhorred the traditional and my list was devoid of classics such as Sarah or Margaret or Elizabeth.

"Phoebe" was not on my list of favorites. I did use the name in a story, though; she was the snotty older sister of the best friend (Haleigh) of my main character (Desirree). Phoebe did show up on Chris's list of favorite names, back in 2005. At first I dismissed it with a "meh," but a day later I suddenly realized that of course our new baby was a Phoebe. There was no way she could be anything else. (And it's true -- Phoebe is such a Phoebe. Can you imagine her with any other name?)

Mallory was on my list back then, although I had reservations about it because of its meaning -- ill-fated, or unlucky. These reservations surfaced again when Chris and I discussed the name back in 2001. Would our future daughter mind the unfortunate meaning of her name? I thought of ways to cushion the blow. We're not French, for one, so as long as she stays in America, it's unlikely that someone will hear her name and say, "Oh! Mal heure! Quelle horreur!" Also, Thomas Malory wrote the Arthur story, which was my fave. And there was that guy who climbed Everest -- his name was Mallory, too. (Although I guess in his case the name's meaning was, in fact, prophetic.) Maybe, I finally, thought, my child wouldn't even be interested in the meaning of her name. Maybe she'd never ask.

She did ask, of course, when she was not even all that old, and was not impressed by the answer. "It's okay," I said, "it doesn't mean that you're unlucky, no one pays attention to the meaning of names anymore, and anyway it only means that in French." She was not consoled. "And," I said, grasping at straws, "lots of names have bad meanings. Your grandma Claudia? Her name means 'lame'!"

This cheered her up somewhat. And, in the way children have of never forgetting things that maybe you wish they would, she has remembered this fact about her grandmother's name...sort of. Tonight she asked, "So what name means stupid?"


"Well, my name means unlucky, and Mama's name means boring, so there must be a name that means stupid."

"I don't think so," I said. Then, "Wait, what did you say Mama's name means?"

"Boring," she said.

"No, no," I said. "Claudia doesn't mean boring. What made you think that? It means lame."

"Uh, yeah," she said. "Lame. Boring. Same thing, right?"

It's our fault, of course, for naming her Mallory; otherwise we wouldn't have had the conversation in the first place. But I think maybe she needs to spend some time in her bedroom, with her door shut, reading a thesaurus.


Karen said...

I know quite a lot of people who need to spend some time reading a thesaurus!

aimee said...

You are funny. I actually love name meanings (mine means "beloved" after all) but Noah's means "rest" and I used to laugh because he hated napping and stopped altogther at the age of 2 and 1/2.