Look I am aware that my children do not have conventional names. We didn’t set out to give them wacky names. Not really. Before Maple was born, we scrolled through thousands of names online and in books and genuinely could not settle on many standard names, and those one of us liked, the other had various associations with and so we had to move on. We loved the flower and tree names but they were a tad much or we knew people with those names already. We came up with Maple really early on and absolutely loved it. We didn’t see it on any name lists, but just discovered it when wading through tree names. We love the outdoors and nature. These things are important to us. But we were worried that outside our little bubble, we might be perceived to be too hippy, too wacky. We continued to wade and came up with a shortlist; Maple, Thelma, Uma, Alma, Billie and Florence (Flo). She had been nicknamed Winnie throughout my pregnancy by my mum and dad. See, I have always been known as Pooh, and Winnie came about quite naturally. Maple was born and we took several weeks to name her. We tried the other names, but Maple stuck and everybody was so used to calling her Winnie that it felt far too special to dispense with, so she became known as Maple Winnie, sometimes Winnie-Mae. We are not married, so rather than hyphernate our names, we joined them together to create a new name: Barbersmith…Barber and Smith; Maple Winnie Barbersmith. We stopped caring what other people thought because she was Maple through and through. Mae for short. We adore it. And the response from friends and people at large has been resoundingly positive.
In Zephyr’s case, we struggled big time with boys’ names. Oz had been a sponsored skateboarder as a teenager so the Californian skateboarding team, Z-Boys, named after the surf shop, Zephyr, was of huge significance. At school, when training classically, I sang a Handle piece called Gentle Zephyrs. It means Gentle Breeze. We love it and could not see past it. Zephyr James Barbersmith. My dad and brother have James as their middle names. My dad’s dad, his dad before, and his dad before; all James. We thought we’d doff our cap to that bit of ancestry.
Of course people form opinions about names. Apple, Moon Unit (Frank Zappa’s kid), Tiger Lilly, Peaches, (Geldof), Soda Pops (no kidding)…I can have a giggle at these. And why the hell not!? You may giggle at Zeph and Maple. Fine. But not to my face. Be polite. Be respectful. There’s a whole world of discussion, research, and history which goes into naming a kid. Tarnishing it with your own brush ignores the fact that you have nothing to do with this history. It ignores that people have entirely different taste in furnishings, wallpaper or no wallpaper, leather or fabric sofas, prints or paintings, antique or new. We come at things in our own way with our own personalities inextricably interwoven in the whole naming process.
So here’s my story.
I took Maple and Zeph to an indoor play centre. Getting ready to leave. A grandmother who was a tad taken with Mae came over and asked her name. I told her.
“Maple? Like Maple Syrup?”
“Like the tree” I said.
“Goodness me,” she retorted. Then looked at Maple and said; “So what’s your little baby brother’s name Maple?”
Maple looked up from the floor where I was putting her shoes back on; “This is my little baby Zephyr.”
The old bat said “Zephyr? Goodness, I wouldn’t know whether he was a boy or a girl with that name.”
Silence from me. I left her hanging. Like I give a monkeys.
She persists…”So why did you give your children such unusual names?”
“Because my partner and I think they’re beautiful and they are of special significance to us.” Hoping she’ll just go away and take her desperately conservative dullness with her I concentrate a little too hard on Maple’s shoes. But she wouldn’t go away.
“But now you’ve burdened them with a lifetime of having to explain their names to people and having to spell them out.” Oh jesus, do phuque off you old drip.
“I’m sure they’ll be just fine. I’ve spent a lifetime spelling out my own name for people (including friends who still misspell my name…for the record folks, Miranda is spelled with an A on the end, NOT an ER…der! MirandDERRRRRR. OK?!) and I’m still relatively unscathed by it. Maple say bye bye to the nice lady.”
Maple: “Bye bye.” And we left.
What I would like to have said?
“At least my children won’t have faces like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. They’ll be broadminded, creative and intelligent souls who won’t insinuate a desperately dull culture of conservatism into all dialogue they enter into … nor will they be rude and assume that everyone is interested in what they have to say or assume that their opinion should matter to everyone. They will happily explain the derivation of their names because they will be proud of the story behind them and they will enjoy spelling them out for people who ask, because it takes all of 2 seconds and who gives a crap anyway?!”