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Tete-a-tete: Parents, do not give your child the name equivalent of the April birthstone

Over the past year, an unprecedented number of my friends and relatives have either become pregnant or given birth, inundating my Facebook timeline and my postal mailbox with birth announcements, sonogram images, and baby pictures. The parenting advice is likewise flying fast and furious.

Since I don’t have children of my own, I have little to say regarding sleep schedules or swaddling techniques, but there is one piece of advice I feel very qualified to give. It is as follows: Parents, please do not give your child the name equivalent of the April birthstone.

As an April baby myself, I’ve lived my entire life with the disappointment of having the diamond as my birthstone. In theory, it’s an enviable gem to have associated with your birth month. Diamonds are beautiful, valuable and, as the traditional choice for engagement rings, a symbol of eternal love.

In reality, however, it doesn’t play out so well. When I was in elementary school, birthstone jewelry was popular amongst my circle of friends. The gems were artificial, of course, but they were sparkly and colorful, which are the most important things to little girls.

My friend with a May birthday had a ring with a green sparkle representing her emerald birthstone. My friend who had a February birthday had a necklace with a purple sparkle to reflect her amethyst birthstone.

I, on the other hand, didn’t bother buying any birthstone jewelry because it wasn’t worth it. All April got was a clear piece of glass. It didn’t even sparkle. I considered buying the January birthstone jewelry because the fake garnet was such a beautiful shade of deep red, but I felt it would be dishonest.

Now that I’m an adult who can ostensibly afford the real version of my birthstone, I face different conundrums. Cubic zirconia has become such a common and convincing substitute for diamond that most people can’t tell if the diamond you’re wearing is real or not – and they’ll generally assume it’s not. Why pay for a real diamond when no one will recognize it as such?

Also, there is no way I can wear a birthstone ring – real or otherwise – without people congratulating me and asking me when the wedding is. Really, given all the challenges diamonds pose, April might as well not have a birthstone at all.

Parents don’t have much control over their child’s birthstone, but they do have control over something far more important: their child’s name. Names are an essential part of daily life and therefore much harder to overlook than birthstones. Potential parents, I encourage you to consider every aspect of your child’s name before you finalize it lest it become a source of disappointment to them instead of the joyful indicator of identity it should be.

Here are a few ways to avoid making a name the equivalent of an April birthstone:

  • Make sure the first name matches well with the last name. Justin, for example, is a great name for a boy, but you may want to rethink it if his last name is Case.
  • Abstain from unusual spellings of traditional names. You may think “Mayri” is a lovely alternative to Mary, and your daughter may one day agree. In the meantime, however, you’ll be consoling her because her friends all bought those personalized keychains at the dollar store for their backpacks and she can never find anything with her name on it. This is to say nothing of the challenges she’ll have in explaining the correct spelling and pronunciation of her name to teachers, doctors, and the world at large.
  • Think about how the name might be received in a professional environment. Honey might be a sweet name for a little girl, but it may create some awkward situations for your daughter when she enters the business world. If you absolutely want to give your child a cute first name, consider giving them a more traditional middle name that they can use professionally if they desire.
  • Consider associations with popular characters or public figures. Any boy named Troy is liable to be serenaded with songs from the “High School Musical” movies at some point, and every Kevin will be asked to make the “Home Alone” face at least once in his life.

These guidelines aren’t intended to discourage parents from giving their child a name that has a complicated spelling or comes with associated cultural baggage. They’re simply an encouragement to think about potential names from a variety of angles and the impact your child’s name might have on their life and their relationships with others.

The most important characteristic of a name is that it should be meaningful, perhaps because it’s a family name that’s been passed down through the generations or it’s a name that represents your child’s ethnic heritage or perhaps because of what the name means in and of itself. The significance of the name to your child should outweigh any complications he or she has to deal with as a result of having it.

I wouldn’t trade the name Teresa for anything, in spite of constantly having to tell people (even my relatives) that there’s no H in my name and having been referred to as “Mother Teresa” by some of my Sunday School classmates. To me, my name is worth these minor frustrations.

My birthstone, on the other hand, is not. If anyone with a January birthday would like to see about swapping birthstones, let me know. I still think garnets are quite lovely.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published April 2, 2015.

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Tete-a-tete: For goodness ‘sakes – generational namesakes can confuse

In many families, it is traditional to pass down names from one generation to the next. Among other things, this practice perpetuates the memory of those who have passed away by preserving their names for the future.

Unfortunately, this practice can also tax your memory, which leads to phone conversations like this between Grandma (Dad’s mom) and me.

Grandma: “So, John said to Joe – ”

Me: “Is John in this case Grandpa, your brother or my uncle?”

Grandma: “This would be your grandfather.”

Me: “OK. Is he talking to his brother Joe, your brother Joe or one of my cousins named Joe?”

Grandma: “His brother Joe.”

Me: “OK. Continue.”

Grandma: “So, John told Joe to get Paul – ”

Me: “Which Paul is this? Hold on, let me get a pen. Wait, is there going to be a Larry involved? Let me get a pencil instead.”

On Dad’s side of the family, counting everyone from in-laws to cousins, those four names belong to roughly two dozen individuals. According to Dad’s estimates, there are nine Johns, six Joes, five Pauls and four Larrys. Understanding who’s who in a family anecdote often involves interruptions for clarification and the occasional diagram.

Even after sitting down with Grandma and putting together a simple family tree of the last three generations, I still have trouble keeping everyone straight.

I am, however, one step ahead of Younger Sister, who only recently realized that Grandma’s youngest brother and Grandma’s son (our uncle) were both named Paul. Grandma’s stories about having adventures with Paul when she was a little girl now make a lot more sense.

Mom’s side of the family passes down names a bit differently. An individual’s first name is the handed-down family name, and their middle name is the name that their parents really wanted to give them and the name they actually go by.

Grandpa, my uncle and my cousin, for example, all have the first name Harold, but you’d never know unless you looked at their address labels — all of them go by their middle names. They all have the same middle name as well, but each of them goes by a different shortened version of it.

I have never been confused as to who’s who when listening to stories about Mom’s side of the family, but this method of passing down names does pose its own unique challenge, which Mom discovered when she attempted to help Grandpa get all of his paperwork in order.

Every official bit of paper has a different name on it. A credit card might be under his first and middle name, an insurance policy might be under his first initial and his middle name and a bank account might be under the shortened version of his middle name. It took months to get everything straightened out and filed under a single version of Grandpa’s name.

It seems as though Mom and Dad have both learned from the naming traditions of the previous generations, as my siblings and I were successfully named after relatives in ways that will (most likely) not cause confusion in the future.

Oldest Younger Brother and Youngest Brother both have first names that do not belong to any other relatives and middle names that are family names, so they’re all set. Younger Sister’s first and middle names are both family names, but they haven’t been used in that combination before, making her distinctive as well.

I like to think that the way in which my parents chose to name me was a particular coup. I was named after a specific relative, but instead of giving me the exact same name, they switched the order. Her middle name is therefore my first name, and her first name is my middle name. Sneaky, huh?

I fear, however, that Mom and Dad’s efforts to make our names stand out may be for naught, since, like most parents with multiple children, they have a hard time keeping us straight anyway. My favorite instance of name confusion was when Dad nearly tripped over the cat and, in frustration, yelled Younger Sister’s name instead of the cat’s.

In spite of the confusion they can cause, I do like the concept of family names. They give you a stronger sense of belonging and connect you to the previous generations. For the sake of future generations, however, I suggest you get creative with nicknames and name order to minimize confusion within the family, and to always file your paperwork under the same version of your name to minimize confusion for the rest of the world.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published May 1, 2014.

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