IN THE BEGINNING there was Anna. Both of our paternal grandmothers were named Anna. Not only that, but both of those grandmothers were born in Lithuania. We love that coincidence. So even though our girl will be born in China, Alex and I thought we'd name her Anna.
"But is it too boring?" I said.
"I'm not sure," he said.
She'll have girlfriends. And by the way things are looking, most of them will be named Caitlin, or Kaitlin. What's with all these Caitlens? The days of Tiffany and Ashley and Brianna are giving way to Kaetlin and Caytlyn and Caitlinn. Is this a name that appeals to people because there are so many ways to spell it?
Recently, I've met little girls named Tia and Talia, Kayla and Kaylee, Rhiannon and Maleah, which rhymes with Maria, as in that "Sound of Music" verse: "How do you solve a problem like Maleah?"
Where are these names coming from? It's all feeling very . . . competitive. As if good parenting starts with the invention of a name, or at least the spelling of a name, that no one else has thought of. I am missing the days of Sue and Steve and Mary and Bill.
And Anna. I think Anna is a good name because it's not unique, which these days is unique. And when she's growing up, she's going to feel pretty special because she has a name everybody can spell on command. Maybe this whole naming thing is the same for all of us: We're just trying to make our kids feel special. Or are we trying to convince ourselves that our kids are special? Did our parents have this issue?
Originality didn't seem to come into play in the days of Bob and Jane and Mike. You named a boy after his dad, and maybe a girl after her mom. Which is what my mom did, which is why we have John and Claire. I don't know why my mother didn't name Kristin, her first daughter, Claire. And neither does Kristin. In fact, I think Kristin has always been a little miffed about that. Kristin was actually born Christine. She changed it in high school to Kristin because it made her feel special.
By the time I came along, my mom was all into the song "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair," and when I came out with light brown hair, bingo. Done deal. She wanted to salvage some of her ancestry so she went with the French Jeanne, added the Marie, but it really didn't matter because for the longest time everybody just called me Jinx, after my cat.
I liked being called Jinx. Because no one else in my entire school was called Jinx. I liked feeling special.
In Lithuanian, Anna is actually Ona. Now that's one you don't hear. Alex really likes Ona. I think Ona would be good if we could be assured that our little girl was going to grow up to be a beautiful, talented movie star, like Uma Thurman. She gets away with Uma because she has perfect hair and nails and teeth. But can you imagine if she were just some normal lady driving a school bus? Uma would be a joke. Ona has similar potential.
As does Mathilda, a name Alex and I both love, mainly because of the way Tom Waits wails it in his haunting version of "Waltzing Mathilda." But every single person we tried Mathilda out on thought we were kidding, so we abandoned it.
When my niece was born seven years ago, Kristin named her Katie. This upset Claire. "That was my name!" she said. Claire didn't have any kids at the time. But she had always imagined a daughter named Katie. I told Claire she was being ridiculous. What was wrong with two cousins with the same name?
A few months ago, when Claire learned the baby she is carrying is a girl, she told me that she had two names in mind: Elizabeth and Anna.
My heart sank. Anna! That was my name! Which I didn't actually realize until Claire threatened to steal it. I did not confront her with this, due to the integrity of my stance on the Katie issue. Instead, I just went on a big Elizabeth campaign. (Which worked.)
To protect Anna. When you name a baby, even a baby you haven't yet met, you start your mothering.
And now my friend Wendy, who is due in September, found out that she is going to have a girl. When she asked for my opinion on names, I was honest. I liked all of her ideas except Mariah, because of that singer.
Then Wendy said, "What about Anna?" Oh, dear. Had she forgotten what I told her about the Lithuanian grandmothers? I reminded her that I basically had a lock on Anna.
So now she is talking very seriously about Hanna. Oh, dear. It's likely that my girl and Wendy's girl will spend a lot of time together. Shouldn't they be distinguished from each other by more than an H? Is Anna going to wish she had an H?
I'm getting worried. I wonder how in the world I am going to protect this child when I can't even seem to shield her from the big, bad world trying to steal her name.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is email@example.com.