Much in a name

Naming a child is one of the greatest responsibilities a parent has. Short of some dramatic action by its bearer, a person is stuck with a name for life and all the nominative determinist consequences that flow from it. While opening it up to the whims of the democratic process was one option (Baby McBabyface?) and engaging the services of a baby name consultant was another, Melanie and I opted to take on the responsibility ourselves.

Our criteria? We wanted a name that suited a child as well as the adult she will become. We wanted a name that conveyed both warmth and gravitas. We wanted a name that carried some broader meaning, within our family and beyond it. We wanted a name that was easy to say and easy to spell. And we wanted a name that sounded good, in its entirety and when each part stood on its own.

For us, it wasn’t just the given names that needed to be chosen. With Melanie and I each keeping our family names when we got married, our daughter’s family name also needed to be decided.

In the end we named our daughter Amelia Sara Calvert. For those curious, there’s a story behind each part.

Amelia has a long history as a girl’s name across several European cultures. In Latin it means “industrious”, a quality we would be proud to have in a daughter. The name has recently come back into vogue across the English-speaking world, though unlike the emerging popularity of other names, there is no clear celebrity trigger for this one.

Instead the most famous Amelia is the great aviatrix (what a word!) Amelia Earhart, a swashbuckling American adventurer who in 1928 was the first women to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart’s story resonates with our family – she was independent-minded, loved to fly and was a talented writer.

A few quotes from Earhart tell you much about her approach to life:

"The stars seemed near enough to touch and never before have I seen so many. I always believed the lure of flying is the lure of beauty, but I was sure of it that night."

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward."

"One of my favorite phobias is that girls, especially those whose tastes aren't routine, often don't get a fair break... It has come down through the generations, an inheritance of age-old customs, which produced the corollary that women are bred to timidity."

"Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn't be done."

Sara, our daughter’s middle name, was given in honour of her great grandmother, who died in 2013 after a long and interesting life that started in Bialystok, Poland, and ended in Melbourne. Middle names have become an apt way to honour deceased relatives on my side of the family and we were keen to continue the tradition. 

My grandmother would have been very excited to have met her great granddaughter and would have no doubt imparted great advice, much of it wise but all of it entertaining. The family tree for whom Amelia is the newest twig shows a Chaya Sara Fink born in Krynki, Poland, in about 1815, so our daughter is bearing a middle name that has been around for seven generations in our family.

Calvert, our daughter’s family name, is Melanie’s family name. While we have defied one convention in this naming decision, we hope to create a new one.

Melanie and I have a very equal relationship. From finances to housework to decision-making, the two of us each enjoy equal benefits, and bear equal responsibility. So when we got married in 2014, it seemed natural to us that we would retain our existing family names rather than have one of us relinquish our name. (It was, perhaps, a reflection of the fact we were both in our 30s and had established independent lives, with our own names, when we got married.)

For us, the tradition of a woman taking on her husband’s name (and the inverse) had a faint hint of possessiveness that we could not countenance. It also put a partner in an awkward position if the relationship were to dissolve and they were left with a family name for a family of which they are no longer a part. While our relationship was strong then and remains so, you never know what the future will bring.

So what name to give to children? One option is a hybrid name that combines parts or all of the parents’ names into a new name, whether as a portmanteau or a double-barrelled name. But this relies on the good fortune of names that work well together, with was not the case in our situation (Shalvert? Carp?). It can also be difficult to perpetuate across future generations without names becoming long and unwieldy.

We needed another approach. We had long been fond of the idea of children taking on the family name of their same-gendered parent, so a daughter takes on the family name of her mother and a son takes on the family name of his father. This approach is a more equal one, giving both parents a chance to pass on their name and not privileging one parent over the other as the head of the household.

Once we found out we were having a girl, it was an easy decision to follow through on the approach we had agreed to. As the parent whose name would not be borne by his child, I was totally relaxed about the decision. The pride I will take in my daughter in the years ahead will come from her personality and her accomplishments, not specifically from her family name.

In Amelia’s case, we had extra reason to give her Melanie’s family name. I am one of five children (including three boys) so there is a strong chance that my family name will be passed on through at least one of us. But the future of the Calvert name in Melanie’s family is less assured. Melanie has one sister, whose wonderful daughter has her father’s family name. Melanie also has two female cousins with her family name. Under the conventional approach to naming, the Calvert name in this part of the family would end at this generation. I am pleased that, with the arrival of Amelia, there will be at least one further generation of Calverts.

So that’s how we came to name our daughter the way we did. Of course, now that the name is hers she is free to do with it what she wishes – to keep it, to modify it or to replace it with something entirely different. For now, though, we think Amelia Sara Calvert sounds just great.

Amelia Sara Calvert


Remy said…
Great piece Ari.
Warm wishes to you and the family.
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