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That Name Is Pretty, Personal--but Not Exclusive

<i> Klein's column appears Sunday</i>

And we thought we were so clever. We knew about the legions of Jessicas, the Nicoles, the Jennifers and Sarahs. Not to mention Amy, Amanda, Allison and Alexandria, and that’s just the A’s.

These are the Debbies and Janets and Kathys and Karens of my generation, the girls who always had to wear an initial after their first names in class.

“No, not you, Debbie S.,” teacher says. “Debbie R. raised her hand first.”

So a little more than two years ago, my husband and I named our younger daughter Hannah. Smug is another way to describe how we felt. Original, wildly creative, we thought we were. Hannah sounded so fresh, so old that it was new.

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Plus, my mother hated it. She ridiculed it, told me about how my aunt and uncle used to call each other Clem and Hannah as a joke. (I wouldn’t mention their real names, nor my mother’s, because I am feeling kind.)

It was my mother’s opposition, I suppose, that cemented our choice of Hannah. Four years earlier, she was aghast that we wanted to name our first-born Maya.

This was a name with significance to my husband and me. “Maya” was to be born in Mexico and Maya is a great poet’s name.

But my mother begged. Maya as her first grandchild? It was too much. She sent me a list of more “reasonable” names from which she suggested I choose. I remember Chelsea was on that list. I thought it odd.

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Maya, however, is not the name of our first born. Lauren is. My husband and I wimped out, new to the parenthood stuff.

The good news is the name Lauren wasn’t on my mother’s roster either, but it seems to have been on those of thousands of other mothers throughout the land. So far, I even know of two other little Laurens with the same middle name--Elizabeth--as our own child’s.

Hannah would be different, of course.

In my dreams.

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The other day at a restaurant, I was propping Hannah on that peculiar hip-torso zone that mothers reserve for offspring too big to be comfortably held but not big enough to be put down for long.

Other parents were doing the same with their own growing bundles of joy. All of us were waiting for tables, all of us thought we’d get here early to avoid the crowd.

Hannah was admiring a baby who was swathed in pink in her father’s arms. Hannah really wanted to take this baby home, her hair felt so soft. The baby’s father seemed charmed.

“What’s her name?” he asked me.

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“Hannah,” said I.

“Hers too!” the man said, thrilled, like we were members of the same club. I was considerably less sanguine.

Turns out there’s a little girl Hannah who lives across the street from this baby Hannah at the restaurant. And it turns out that my former editor now has a Hannah, and there’s another Hannah who belongs to a friend at work.

When this friend and I talk about our offspring, we start off by distinguishing between my Hannah and yours.

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To all you other young Hannahs out there: I don’t want to know.

I mean no offense, you understand. Americans, especially, are like this about names. Or at least those of us trying not to get lost in our crowded Baby Boom.

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We want to be different, each of us an Individual, as close as we can get to unique. And if our parents didn’t quite hit the mark with us (OK, Dianne with double “n” is no Debbie, but still . . . ), we try to bestow such a mantle to our kids.

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Without being too weird, of course. The kid could get it into her head to run for president some day.

In Spanish-speaking countries, this name fetish doesn’t seem to exist. You’ve got your saints, and the Virgin, some kings and queens. It seems best to stick with the tried, and the tried once again. Can you imagine a nice Mexican couple naming their daughter Moon Unit Zappa? Or their son, Dweezil? I cannot.

And now there’s a trend among African-Americans to make up names for their children, many of them with an Afro-centric sound. We may not know what they mean, but we know they’ve got a different ring. “Notice me!” such names shout.

Because here in America, that’s what it’s all about.

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Getting noticed is the first step toward getting ahead, wherever that may be these days.

Sure, Jessica and Nicole and Jason and Joshua can get noticed too. But they might have to try a different tact, maybe become a bit more creative than most.

I’m just hoping that Hannah, or Lauren, doesn’t feel the need to become the first kid in her class to dye her hair orange, or pierce her tongue. You know how that goes. It could be so old that it becomes new.


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