I’ve never had a name people could pronounce. “Vaela” got me Vay-ee-luh, Vee-ay-luh, Viola, Vale, Val, and other bizarre pronunciations that made absolutely no sense. I remember growing up, every time I met someone new, they would ask me how to say my name, and then say “That’s so pretty,” and it was an instant conversation starter. My weird name never made me feel isolated or awkward. If anything, it made me feel unique and cool. I liked the fact that there was never another me in any of my classes, and now in the days of the internet, whenever I need a username or whatever, my name is almost always free. I love having a weird name.
When I got pregnant the first time, I knew my child wouldn’t have a boring name. I didn’t realize then, however, just what a challenge naming her would become. We argued over names for weeks, until Vi suggested the name “Caoimhe.” It was a name we had loved since before I got knocked up. I was in love with the pronunciation but I knew the spelling would be a hassle – my family had already made it clear that they thought our child should have a normal name, and I knew people are cruel and would be assholes if we chose such a strange spelling.
The thing was, we could not find a better spelling, no matter how hard we tried. Keeva, Kiva, Keyva…they all seemed overworked and contrived and just not what we wanted. Vi basically told me that Caoimhe was her choice and she wouldn’t budge, and ultimately the name dug its way into my heart until I loved it, too. The only problem was going to be breaking the news to my family.
On my grandfather’s 80th birthday, we held a surprise party for him at his church. I created a little card with the ultrasound picture that said “it’s a girl!” (gross, I know, sorry – but that’s another post altogether) and the words “Caoimhe McKervey.” I was super excited to share my child’s name and life with my family.
After everybody went home, Vi and I sat down with my mom, grandfather, uncle and his partner and I gave the card to Papa Sam, teeming with excitement. He opened the card, gave a little happy noise about her being a girl, and then a look of dismay fell on his face as he saw the name. My mom read the card and looked and me and said something along the lines of “Oh, no, you didn’t really pick THAT spelling, did you?” My family proceeded to tell us that we were being extremely selfish and that our daughter’s life would be ruined if she had such a strange name, that she would be bullied forever and nobody would ever hire her.
I ran out crying and didn’t speak to my family for a bit. My grandfather eventually wrote us a letter begging us to either change the spelling or pronounce the name “Kay-oh-mee,” because having her name spelled and pronounced the way we were was going to destroy her life. I was really fucked pissed off and bitter for a long time. It hurt me so much that my family was more focused on my child’s name than her existence. I felt like they were missing the point.
Now that Caoimhe is four, there have certainly been a fair amount of challenges regarding the spelling. It’s true, people very rarely can pronounce the name at first glance. However, this whole thing my family was predicting of a life of hassle and torment – it’s just not true. A simple explanation of “It’s Irish,” is all that’s needed, and usually the person is pleasant and proceeds to gush about how pretty the name is.
Unfortunately there are a few people who think they have the right to talk about our name choice to us. A nurse, once, and other random passers-by have all told us that we are terrible people and that our daughter will hate us when she grows up. I always tell them that I grew up with a weird ass name that nobody could say and I turned out fine, but they just shrug and act like my experience doesn’t count.
When we got pregnant with our second child, we shot names back and forth for weeks, yet again. We finally decided on the name Ruadhan, and really struggled with whether to spell it as such or to spell it “Rowan.” I didn’t like the idea of having one weird Gaelic child and the other being totally normal. But at the same time, I didn’t want to hear the same bullshit from my family and everybody around me. Ultimately, I decided I wanted them to match and we chose the name Ruadhan. I think it’s beautiful and fits him much better than the other spelling.
I think that having a weird name gives you a kind of protective shell that prepares you for life. It also gives you an instant icebreaker when you meet new people, and people almost always remember you. Being unique is cool. I personally wouldn’t change my name for anything. I love it and I don’t care that I have to tell people how to say it most of the time. Once they figure it out, they remember it from then on.
Basically, the experience of naming my children taught me to be strong with your beliefs. When you know something is right for you and your family, and the whole word is screaming at you to stop because they don’t like weird things, you just give them the finger and say FUCK YOU and keep going, because ultimately you know what’s best for you.
I love my name and my childrens’ names and I wouldn’t ever, ever go back and change them.