From the moment you return from the hospital and find yourself sitting on your pre-baby sofa in your pre-baby house with a tiny, fragile, newborn human being in your lap and think, "Does someone know I have this?" being a parent is a long-running exercise in, "I can't believe I'm allowed to do this." And few things drive home the phenomenal weight of that responsibility like picking out a baby name.
Seriously, I'm allowed to name a human being? In 20 years there will be a grown woman walking around the world, applying to schools and jobs with a name that I picked out for her? Madeline Albright's name is Madeline Albright because in 1937, someone just like me thought, "I choose Madeline."
That is a lot of responsibility.
My husband and I spent more than a year trying to find the perfect baby name. I'm still not sure we did. I don't know that I will ever be sure.
We started with a list of mandatory requirements for qualities a name must have. That did not help much, because we only had one:
Rule 1: It must be immediately identifiable as a first name for a female human. Unisex names like Evelyn or Leslie count and are just great, but we're probably not going to name the baby Winston or Alexander. (Note: Evelyn is a great name. Evelyn goes on the list.)
Other than that, we just had vaguely defined guidelines and preferences. We liked older names, names with literary or historical precedent, and names that are easy to say in a lot of different languages, because that makes living abroad slightly easier. We like the letter "V" but do not like the letter "J." Had a friend not recently named her baby "Vivian," we would almost certainly have a tiny Vivian right now.
Luckily my husband and I have very similar tastes, because it almost never came up that one of us liked a name the other did not. In fact, I think it only happened once--I liked Camilla, he did not.
I tested out the different names with "Dr." in front. I added "Senator" and "President." Then I practiced saying, "And the Oscar goes to ..." For good measure, I practiced "Princess" too. Not that I expect her to become a princess, but the world's various royals do have a habit of picking sensible baby names.
I had my own finicky set of rules: I like longer names with lots of potential nicknames. The nigh infinite number of ways to shorten "Elizabeth" gave me plenty of opportunity to experiment with different names during my youth, so I consider flexibility to be a value-add. For that reason, I said we could not give the baby a diminutive for an official name. She could be a Maggie or a Daisy or a Gretchen, but in all those cases her birth certificate would read "Margaret."
With a heavy heart, we dropped "Olive" on the grounds that there were already too many Olivias, and "Valeria" because Human Barbie Valeria Lukyanova was in the news at the time for loudly being very racist, and I needed a reason to cut names from the list anyway.
Click here to find out what name I actually picked and what might have been better.
Sometimes there were names I hated at first hearing, but then came to like quite a bit the more I thought about them. "Bleh!" I said to Antonia, before saying it a few times and coming to like the sound of it. "Bleh!" said my husband at first, before deciding he liked the idea of a Roman name that was older than any on our list. (Other good Roman names that went on the list: Marcella, Aurelia, Augusta, and Octavia. If considering these, be forewarned that there are two Aurelias in a class of eight children starting preschool with my daughter next year.)
By coincidence, we live near the hometown of Princess Antonia, "The Minerva of Württemberg," a 17th-century scholar, linguist, and Christian Kabbalist known for being deeply intellectual, philanthropic, and a little weird. Antonia and Minerva both went on the list.
Finally we wound up with a short list about which I was pretty excited: Beatrice; Gwendolyn; Cordelia; Margaret, who would be called "Daisy"; Clementine; Antonia; and Persephone, who would be called "Percy."
Not long before the due date, my pregnancy hormones and I decided that we had to nix Persephone on the grounds that the original source material was too rapey. I still wasn't any closer to singling out one of the others.
I told people I was waiting until she was born to decide for sure.
"I need to see her face to know if it fits," I said. But nothing really fit that newborn face. She was swollen and red and cranky and tired and pissed off. She looked kind of like Grumpy Cat.
I thought when she was born there would be a clear choice. "Her name is Charlotte!" I would declare. I imagined being more sure of her name than I was of my own. But I had the same list and was no more sure than I had been before.
So we just crossed off the names and went with the one that seemed like the best of them at that specific moment in time: Antonia.
It's great and I love it. She answers to "Nia" and "Antonia." Old Italian ladies call her Antonella. It's exactly what we wanted: Old and established, but not too popular and not too weird, with plenty of gravitas for the grown woman she'll be some day.
I think we chose well, but that doesn't mean I'll ever be 100-percent positive. Three weeks after she was born I thought, "Maybe we should have gone with Margaret. Is it too late to change her name?"
Five weeks after she was born, I thought: "Xanthippe is a great baby name! Why didn't Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt come out before we filed her birth certificate?"
Antonia was almost certainly a better option for our daughter than Xanthippe, but I don't think I'll ever stop second-guessing myself about her name. Even as I write this post I am thinking, "What happened to Evelyn? Evelyn was great."