Friday, October 14

That One Time I Named a Human

Over at the message boards -- where I've been a member for 12.5 years and currently act as a member advisor -- we've been discussing name regret. Inspired by this recent article, members have been sharing their own stories of naming regret and satisfaction. 

In 2007, my fiance and I got a cat. We'd been told it was a boy cat, so we named him Huckleberry. Months later, we discovered she was actually a girl. The name didn't change, but I have to say it doesn't seem to suit her very well, anymore. We wind up calling her "the cat," or, more frequently, "Kibbens," instead. 

Before I named a human, I worried that the name I'd someday choose for my child would be a name that would eventually bore, embarrass or annoy me. Mostly, I worried that, like Huckleberry, it wouldn't be the right one.

Strangely, when I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2008, names got pushed to the backburner. I was never shy about bringing up names with my friends or my husband (or complete strangers ...) but in the face of such a serious life-changing situation, I wasn't entirely focused on them. 

At some point I looked at my long lists and began to consider the ones I could envision on an actual child of mine. Luckily, my husband, as a non-namer and a thoughtful partner, basically ceded all naming rights to me. Of course I would never have chosen something he hated, but he's a smart guy and realized that I knew and cared more about naming than he did. 

According to my lists, these were the boy name contenders:


Quite early on, the boy name race narrowed down to two -- Marlon and Aurelius. I was more attached to Marlon, though I liked Aurelius' wow-factor. For the middle name, I liked Caspar or Casper, though I could never decide on a favorite spelling. 

We didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl, and I didn't want to settle on a name until after we met the baby, but if we'd had a boy, he most likely would have been Marlon Caspar

Marlon is still my favorite boy name, but I have many new favorites that would be serious contenders if I were to name another child. Also, it sort of feels like Marlon's moment has passed, for us. We had a daughter, but Marlon feels like "her" name, like if biology had decided she should be a boy, she would have been Marlon. I can see it feeling wrong to use it for someone else.

Here are the girl names that were on my early lists:


Elodie, Esme and Delphi were strong contenders. I worried about the popularity of Elodie after meeting a couple little ones, and Esme went off the table as soon as I realized it was a character from the Twilight series. I was sad to see them go, but my top two were the only ones I was truly drawn to. 

Delphi, with its fresh, energetic sound and its mystical history, was popular with most people we mentioned it to. I kept our other top choice closer, maybe because it was, by far, the newest to my list. 
I'd added it during the '08 summer Olympics. My husband and I were watching the games, and one of the athletes was a woman named Otylia. I said it out loud (like any name nerd would) and my husband said, "Hey, I like that." 

Encouraged by his rare response to what is, by now, mostly just an unconscious tic, I went on. I remembered a different form of Otylia, one I'd seen in a couple birth announcements. "What about Ottilie?" I asked. "Yep. Write that one down," he said, and that was that. It was instantly his favorite name, and shot to the top of my list. 

A month or so later, I was pregnant, and I couldn't help but wonder if Ottilie'd jumped out when it did as an omen. Like the universe was saying, Ottilie is coming.

When I was around 19 weeks pregnant, I visited my parents' home for the holidays. One afternoon I grabbed a book off the shelf and sat down to read. The book was Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote. I finished it in one sitting and was happy to see there were some short stories included in the back. I began to read the first one, "House of Flowers." Guess what the main character's name happened to be? 

Ottilie is coming.

There was still the matter of a middle name. I thought it would be Lucia, Estella, or Johanna. One night towards the end of my pregnancy the name Valentine came to me -- it was not on any list I'd ever made. I said it out loud in front of my husband, and he asked, "What?" 

I said it again, "Ottilie Valentine?" I remember getting goosebumps.

"Oh, that's good," he said. "That's really good." 

When we finally met her, there was no question. It was her name. 

That was almost 2.5 years ago and I have no name regret. I don't imagine I ever will. I think that was my peak naming performance. I can't believe I was so relaxed about it. I have no idea how to top myself. My current favorite girl names pale in comparison.

Some of that, I'm sure, is because it's not just a combo, anymore. It's a human. A silly, smart, unique little human. Maybe I'd feel this way about any name that became hers. 

It sounds silly, but I feel that if you let it, if you're open to it, the right name will find the right person. It hardly matters what the name turns out to be, but I believe naming someone is an honor, one that requires effort and thought.

More thought, less regret, I bet. 

Ottilie Valentine
who named all her stuffed animals "Poopy"


  1. I think that was my Breakfast at Tiffany's book that you read...You're welcome ;)

  2. I love the name Ottilie Valentine! To be quite honest, however, I really don't like Aurelius for a boy. Seems too girly. Marlon is okay, I would prefer Marlin. But nice post, loving your blog!

  3. That's an absolute beautiful name!

    I don't think you usually get naming regret if you think things through, but the more children you have, and the longer you continue having children, I think the more likely you will end up feeling as if your options are limited in advance.

    eg If your favourite two names are Annabelle and Annalise, and you pick one, you'll probably feel you can't take the second name for Daughter 2. And as you've discovered, now Marlon is "gone" for a boy ...

  4. Waltzing -- yes, definitely. And I'm sure if, say, a Kardashian named their child Ottilie, I might have some retroactive regret there. Or if she grows up to hate it!

  5. I'm sure she won't - it's such a pretty name and has a number of cute nickname forms she can use.

    PS There was a recent article on naming regret in the papers, saying that quite a staggering number of parents regretted their child's name.

    On an Australian parenting site, there was a discussion on the article, and a general consensus that "name remorse" is an American invention.

    I must say, I have never come across it myself - if the kid's name turns out not to suit them as well as you'd hoped, we just call them by a nickname or their middle name. Or not worry about it!

    I mean if you ever have to take your child to emergency, it becomes immaterial whether you are writing down Liam or Connor on the form - all you care about is that they are healthy and safe.

  6. Ottilie Valentine is just absolutely gorgeous. And she is just beautiful, she looks just like you too.

  7. What a beautiful little girl.

    Do you pronounce Ottilie the proper German way as "oh-TEEL-yeh" or that weird re-imagined English way of "OT-tilly"? I'm German, so the latter always makes me laugh, sorry. (also because the name itself is hopelessly outdated over here now. and not in the nice, charming old-fashioned way.) I prefer Odelia myself.

    I like Valentine with the French pronunciation of "vahl-on-TEEN". val-en-TYNE sounds too much like the holiday, to me at least.

  8. I totally agree with you, Eponymia, about the right name finding the right person, and the importance of listening to the "vibes of the universe" as it were that steer you towards the "right" name.

    Bestowing a name is indeed a tremendous honor. It is the first gift we give our children, which, in most cases, lasts a lifetime, and which they take with them wherever they go.

  9. Her name is fabulous, and so are the rest of the names on your list. I have the same feeling about naming another child--nothing will come close to my love for E's name! (or so I think...)

  10. What a fantastic story! And man is she a doll! I couldn't agree more about the the right name finding us, sometimes.

    this is a stunning list, too.

  11. Love this story! And she has a beautiful name, so sweet!

  12. have people had difficulty pronouncing her name? what have been the general reactions to it? (Which is gorgeous!)

  13. Anonymous -- we often have to pronounce her name multiple times until a new person "gets" it. We've come up with a lot of tricks to shorten this, like saying "it's from the male name Otto," or "like Natalie, with an 'O'." Usually people understand after one repeat, and even when it takes a little more, we're not bothered. Kind of goes with the territory when you choose a lesser-heard name. Our Swedish friends use the more traditional pronunciation Dahlia mentioned above, "O-teel-yeh," and I like that, too. We're very careful to annunciate when we first say it, since most people seem to confuse the sounds with, "Adelaide?" or "Adelie?" or something that sounds like "adda-lay."

    General reaction has been quite good. No one's said anything negative to our faces, though we have gotten a few "umm, Oddly?" crinkled noses. We live in a place where uncommon names are actually pretty common and well-received. With kids at the park named Tank, Lux and Echo, Ottilie seems not-so weird. We actually met an Ottilie at the playground a year or so ago. She was an Ethiopian woman in her 30s!

  14. I adore Ottilie in all her forms, whether it is the English (AHT-tih-LEE), the French (OTE-tee-LEE) or the German (oh-TEEL-yeh), I think it is just an outright gorgeous name. Ottilie Valentine is fantastic and the name suits her so well!

  15. Ottilie Valentine, what a wonderful name. What a beautiful girl. I can't wait to meet you. Love, Uncle Matt

  16. I'm WAY late to the party on this one, but I came across your site while googling Ottoline / Ottilie and I'm curious... Any updates four/five years later? I'm in love with both these names and having trouble deciding between the two, but also am hung up on if it's just a bit too "out there"...

  17. Beautiful name! I just named my daughter Ottilie Violet Winter, had a really positive response so far!


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