Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Hairy Dad Chronicles #1: Naming the first born

So another mouth bleeds unimportant business into the blogosphere. This on top of the already unimportant stuff that I bleated about albums a couple of years back. Sheesh!

But I never learnt to knit or draw or sculpt or paint or network to the point of it becoming a science: all I know is words, spoken ones and written ones. And so begins my piece...

Lou, my wife, and I have been trying to do this whole marriage and family life deal with as even a couple of pairs of hands as we can manage. We got married in August 2011 - the ceremony was as DIY as possible on the Irish Sea coast in extreme Anglesey, which was only possible because of the generous donation of time, talents and energy of our friends and families. We did all we could to keep things as balanced in terms of gender as we could, because it was the way that made sense to us.

We were both given away by parents, rather than Lou being handed over to me. We both kept our names, rather than any double-barrelled business or sublimation of one name into the other: we both liked** our names as they were, we identified ourselves by them, and didn't feel the need to change them. We both spoke at the wedding feast and we both had Best People, even sharing one: this made for a lot of speeches, but we felt we had a lot to say. (We almost always do have a lot to say...) It all felt like we were making the decisions, that we were arranging our marriage and our futures the way that we wanted.

Then, a few months later, Lou was pregnant, which is what we'd dearly hoped would happen - although we were a little surprised it happened so quickly. We gradually realised that there were a few issues to be resolved for the next generation if we wanted to do everything we could to preserve the gender balance. First up, names: we didn't know if they were a boy or a girl, so we looked into possible names for either result.

The name Jasper came to us out of the ether and I don't think either of us is still sure how it arrived*. It sounded cheerful - it's actually quite hard to say Jasper in a grumpy way, although I personally have had a great deal of practice since he arrived - and it was a little unusual without being obscure. After all, this is what every aspirational middle class parent wants, isn't it? A uniquely branded kid, tagged with a name that oozes elegant originality. (Sheesh!) It was also the name of a lot of family pets and a range of Marks & Spencer tables, but you can't plan for this stuff. (You can.)

The girl's name though was more of a poser: we couldn't agree on one for ages. One of the main issues was the vast number of names that meant "beautiful" or "princess" or were simply a feminisation of a male name: however hidden the original meaning, that kind of etymological shit sends a message, and we wanted it as unDisney as possible. We searched various languages, hovering around Welsh for a long time for reasons that will become clearer in any future blogs - but all the girls' names I read aloud were quashed by Lou for sounding too weird, for want of a better word on my part. Angharad probably doesn't have the same ring to it if you weren't raised within the sound of Menai Bridge: a bit of a duff and rusty ring, perhaps.

Eventually, we found Mabli - the Welsh version of Mabel, which comes from the Latin for "loved". Still perhaps a bit passive, but without doubt along the right lines. It sounded a bit stranger, a bit more foreign than Jasper - but was still as cheerful. And it wasn't a name I'd come across growing up in north Wales either, which appealed to us both.

So, we were sorted for first names. But the thornier issue lay ahead - the family name. We were pretty sure that we weren't going to go down the route of calling them either Harvey (after Lou) or Egan (after my family), as it would be choosing one parent's line over the other. Again, this is not a criticism or a judgment against how anyone else has named their kid. There are a lot of good arguments for the whole family having the same surname; it just didn't make sense to us to choose one of ours. We take names very seriously, as many people do, and we didn't want the identification tag to sit on either the father or mother.

We couldn't settle on a double-barrelled name. It felt like we were just putting the decision off to the next generation. And we didn't really like the sound of either Harvey-Egan or Egan-Harvey. (Incidentally, we have some friends called Wright and Mighty who got married recently; in their case it would seem a travesty for them not to go by the name Mighty-Wright.) The idea of fusing them together into a new surname like Harvigan seemed a little outside our comfort zone. We talked about it with many of our friends and privately banged our heads against subtle brick walls about how we could resolve this.

Welsh culture came to the rescue again. Many of the people I knew at school and a friend of Lou's from the Lleyn Peninsula went by different surnames than their siblings, often a second first name, rather than the Jones or Williams that was generally their official surname. For example, a Dafydd Thomas could be known as Dafydd Wyn  - or perhaps Dafydd Mon if they were from Anglesey (Ynys Mon in Welsh). So we set about trying to think of a suitable surname for our firstborn.

We lived at the time (and still do for the moment) on Henley Avenue and so Jasper Henley became a possibility, recognising their Traffordian roots and the fact that we were so happy in our family home on that road. But Mabli Henley didn't really tick our boxes, so we put Henley to one side and thought on.

After some months, we suddenly thought of using the name Firswood - the small suburb of Trafford where Henley Avenue lies - and it felt as though something clicked. Jasper Firswood sounded like a woodcutter; Mabli Firswood sounded like a mysterious, witchy kid - both sounded good to us. It was also a very normal sounding name: Firswood. We'd found what we after!

The next stage was discussing it with our respective in-laws - after all, it was as much a decision to spurn their names as it was ours. The issue came up of identification - the idea that the child would be confused if they didn't have the same name as either Mam or Dad. It seems quite common for a kid not to share a name with at least one parent, but then that doesn't mean it cannot be used as a bully stick for beating them. The other objection was that it simply wasn't the way things are done.

We don't mind so much not doing things the done way - and this issue of identification seems important enough to stick our neck out for. Although we are aware that it isn't just our neck we will be sticking out. Perhaps a few other people have come to the same conclusion and it might become a more normal thing during the child's school career anyway. (That's what is known as wishful thinking, but if you can't start a kid's life with some hope, when can you be hopeful?) We decided that any other children we had would also be Firswoods, so that they could identify and be identified with each other. We also designate ourselves as the Family Firswood, even though Lou and I won't be changing our names to Firswood either.

If the worst came to the worst, we could change Jasper or Mabli's surname when they get old enough to want to anyway. A decision had been made.

So come October 2012, a little lad arrived - almost a month earlier than expected but big enough and beautiful enough to look after himself already. He arrived by C-section and as he was passed over to Lou and myself, his final name took shape - Dominic Jasper Bertie Firswood.

You might have noticed something. That first name that has somehow slipped into pole position: Dominic. See, the gender battle lines still had another kink to keep us on our toes. It was possibly the most pernicious and divisive issue that we had to work out, skulking about in the shadows the whole time.

The third name - and we always wanted two middle names - was the name of our friend, who was a student midwife at Manchester and was there to receive Jasper into the world. The fact it was a woman's name and also a bit gender-playful was also good for our purposes. However, that was the easy bit, the sideshow to the main attraction.

My first name is Dominic. So was my Dad's. And his Dad's. His Dad was also Dominic and it seems likely his Dad before. Despite the idea of a patronymic being pretty much the completely opposite attitude to all the other gender-based positions we'd adopted, I didn't want to be the one that dropped the name ball. (A suitably daft sporting metaphor for what is arguable a daft masculine thing to cling to.) His given name was always going to be Jasper, but Lou and I discussed the Dominic issue over and over again, never really resolving the conversations one way or the other, the mood occasionally being punctuated by a hurt silence or weary sigh. It was a choice between letting down my dead forebears or my egalitarian-minded principles: it shouldn't have been any choice at all. But the nagging feeling wouldn't leave me alone...

When that noon in October arrived, however, bringing a long, reddish pink Jasper with it, I confessed to Lou as we cuddled our first of many tens of thousands of cuddles with our new Firswood that I wished my Dad was there. He had died in 1997, so long ago that the vast majority of my friends (Lou included) had never met him. I felt acutely that I wanted him there, to let me know that this whole Dad business was going to be alright - in the way only a Dad could. Lou agreed that Jasper could be DJB Firswood*** and (barring a wobble at the registry office a coupe of weeks later) that was the decision made official.

It still sticks in Lou's ears, nose and throat a little, I think, when "Dominic Firswood" is called at the doctor's, but his everyday name is Jasper (or Jibber, or Jibber Jabber, or Jaspergers, or Jasperilla, etc.) Firswood - and he seems happy enough with it fifteen months later.

We managed up to a point to sell the name Firswood to our folks with the idea of it being a very old way to name a child - "Jasper of Firswood", and they seem sold on the reality of the name, at least, if not the idea behind it. My Mum still sends letters to Mr & Mrs Egan anyway, so she's unlikely to catch up completely, but she doesn't complain about it when she does remember I've kept the Egan name virus to myself.

One other happy coincidence of the whole thing is that common as it sounds, we haven't been able to find anyone with the name Firswood on the internet or local 'phone books. It seems we've accidentally stumbled on a surname that sounds as English as oak and chips, but is virtually unique. So, lucky auld Jibber there, eh?

Anyway, this post has been considerably longer than I intended - and I need to go and wake him from his post-prandial snooze. But I will strike again! Next time, perhaps, the topic will be my abysmal attempts to pass on my abysmal Welsh to him.

Am y tro nesf!

Your pal, Coc


* There was a possible link to Jasper Tudor, uncle of Henry VII and a descendent of the powerful Tudur family that came from Anglesey themselves.

** I apologise for the lazy and liberal use of "we" in this post. We don't think in unison like some Stepford unit, no matter how similar many of our ideas are. There is much discussion behind each joint decision: discussion far too tedious and protracted to share, even on here.

*** This is also the way his name appears on the cricket scorecards and literary masterpieces of our imagined futures for him. (Triple sheesh!)

1 comment:

Ptigga said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this. It's fascinating reading about the process you went through and how you persevered against those who said 'that's not how its done'.

My fiancé and I are getting married this year and we're both keeping our surnames but realise that this is just delaying the inevitable decision of what surname our Children will have.

Keeping our own names when we get married doesn't really affect anything, but there's a bigger decision to be made when the children come along.

We've discussed me taking her name and this is an idea which I'm fairly happy with but my parents are certainly NOT HAPPY about so, in the interests of not rocking the boat we've decided not to do it, or at least not until we have a good reason to.

I'm intrigued by the decisions that you and Lou made and its opened up a whole new range of possibilities in my mind. The idea of picking a completely new surname had never occurred to me.

Now that I think about it I also really like the idea of a shared middle name that is not a family name and its possibly something that we can have to provide an elegant connection without having the same surname.