[Originally published November 26, 2012.]
I don’t pick baby names. I sculpt them.
I don’t use baby books. I sculpt baby names from love, from hatred, from the reality of this hellhole of a world that you’re forcing an innocent life to endure. It all goes into the name.
If you want me to name your baby, you need to come to me early. Very early. You should come to me long before you’re even expecting, preferably when you’re still deciding whether you even want to have kids. I want to meet you as you’re looking at your lives and wondering how you could ever make room for a baby. I want you each to give me a list of the dreams you’re giving up to have your baby. I want you to keep a journal of all the times you consider running away from your spouse just to avoid becoming a parent. All of it, all of your doubt, it all goes into the name.
I need to get a sense of what you sound like so I know how a name will be voiced on your lips. I won’t be intrusive. We’ll have a few dinners, take a few walks, go to a few ballgames. If you’re drinkers I’ll need to see you intoxicated to know how your speech is impaired by alcohol (will you be slurring your baby’s name when drunk or are you more the bitter, mumbling types). We’ll have some fun times. I’ve been told in addition to being good at naming babies I’m also excellent company out on the town.
In between our scheduled meetings I’ll also follow you around when you don’t know I’m there, covertly recording your conversations so I can get a sense of your natural speech cadence when you aren’t being observed, which consonants you favor and which you tend to skip past.
And ideally, you’ll grant me access to your bedroom so I can be a witness to the moment your baby is conceived.
Not all prospective parents are comfortable with me watching them have intercourse and that’s fine if you want to cut corners on the name your baby will carry for the rest of her life. The parents who allow it are sophisticated enough to understand that there’s no better way for me to know a child’s essence than to be there for the erotic act from which that child is created. But if you’re too modest and you’d prefer that I name your baby with one hand tied behind my back, so be it. You can make a video recording of the conception and send it to me.
A frivolously applied baby name is a capital crime in my book. When you hire me, you’re trusting me with the task of defining a human being with a sound. I settle on the vocal sequence of syllables that baby—that person—will hear more times than any other word or noise in her lifetime. Her teacher will call it out on her first day of school. Lovers will scream it while in her bed. Bystanders will shout it when she’s in danger of being crushed by a falling piano.
Baristas will scribble it on the cups containing her lattes.
As far as expected delivery of the finalized name, ballpark timeframe is usually three-to-eighteen months after the birth.
I need that time. I need to get to know your baby, preferably over the course of a weeklong cross-country road trip. Just me, your baby, and the sights and sounds of the American highway. I can’t learn what a baby’s name should be just by watching him sleep in a crib. I need to watch him sleep on the stained mattress of a roadside Super 8 outside Amarillo, TX. The acoustics in your nursery are lovely for listening to your baby giggle, but I prefer the acoustics of an Iowa cornfield. I want to hear your baby’s coo echo over the lip of the Grand Canyon. The country into which your baby is born deserves some input in the name your baby carries. It all goes into the name.
Once I return your baby—and you can ask around, I’ve never lost a one—I’ll leave your family be while I get to work. I take everything I’ve learned about you, all that I’ve absorbed about your family unit, and I head off into seclusion for several months, where I let the sounds and syllables swirl around in my head and ferment a while. I have cabins scattered throughout the world, in the Atacama Mountains of Chile, on a lake in Wyoming, deep in the Siberian wilderness, places where I won’t have to make niceties with neighbors and shopkeepers, places where I can sculpt your baby’s name in silence.
If you need references, I can give you a few. You can make a quick call to Mr. and Mrs. Phoenix. Not sure there would have been as many movie stars in that family if they’d gone with their original name-choices. Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, starring Barney Phoenix? My Own Private Idaho starring Keanu Reeves and Mel Phoenix? I think they’ll tell you I did them a solid.
The LeBeouf family. Call them up. They seemed to like my work.
The Palin family. I named everyone but Bristol. You can’t pin Bristol on me. Track, however, I count among my masterpieces.
And Uma Thurman brought me in as a consultant for the middle three of her new baby’s many names, though none of my work made it onto the birth certificate. Too many cooks in the kitchen on that one.
There are a lot of other babies I’ve named who you probably never heard of because they didn’t grow up to be famous. They just grew up to be good people who wore their names proudly. People like Lactozia Richardson, Beefpresident Bennet, Fard Leahy, AHHHHHHHH! AHHHHHHH! Smith, Pftftftftftftftft Lewis and, of course, my own daughter, Jeff.
There’ve been a few complaints. Babies I’ve named have come to me as adults and said, “I think you got my name wrong. I don’t think I’m a Shitzaroonielala.” Or, “I think I look more like a Steve than a Sadkevin412.”
What they eventually realize is they only wish I’d gotten their names wrong. They wish they could be a Steve, or a Brittany, or a Laura, but when they find some peace with themselves, they always end up thanking for me for naming them exactly who they are. For taking everything that makes them unique and making sure that it all went into the name.