Double Trouble When Mom Plays This Name Game

My husband, a man with the bland, safe name of Dan, had little interest in naming our children, beyond an occasional flourish of the veto pen. I, on the other hand, spent the last half of each pregnancy poring over name books, searching for the perfect mix of vigor and grace, names my children could carry with distinction for a lifetime.

Each evening I presented the day's roster to Dan as he read the paper. As long as he didn't look up from the sports page and scowl, a name survived first-round elimination. Gwendolyn or Palmer? Maxwell or Chet? I envisioned a range of identities for my babies-to-be. I have saved the lengthy, annotated lists for my children's baby books: the selves each child might have been.

Yes, naming a baby is serious stuff. But three years ago, naming twins advanced me to a new challenge level. When I learned that I was pregnant with two boys, I began my search in earnest. Literally. I liked the name Ernest. Or at least I remembered liking a boy named Ernest in high school.

But my sister, ever helpful, pointed out that the name "Ernie," attached to anyone other than the lithe and brilliant Ernie of my youth, sounded nasal and stubby.

The fact that I was naming twins complicated matters: "Ernie? Then this one must be Bert!" I know twins named Carolyn and Marilyn, Wade and Wyatt, Megan and Michelle. I have read about Star and Sparkle, Beau and Arrow, and Salina and Salena (headed for a life of utter confusion).

Personally, I've long harbored a suspicion of twins with matching monikers. They remind me of Bridgette and Bobette, my big sister's friends, the first twins I knew. I could never tell them apart, nor did I see a need to. They dressed alike, treated me the same ("Go away, pest!") and were - in my eyes - interchangeable. As far as I was concerned, "Bridgette and Bobette" was one word, one name. My own sons deserved better.

AND so I journeyed through a minefield of name choices, cautious of alliteration, rhyme, and bad puns. I liked the name Stuart. I liked the name Louis. But Stewie and Louie was cruel. Barrett was good, and I paired it with Charles, until waking one night I sprang upright and wailed, "Chuck Barry!"

As I rearranged my list, each combination posed hazards. Harrison and Barrett - fine, but Harry and Barry? Forget it. Stuart and Hamilton? Ham Stew.

As my due date neared, my search grew frantic. A friend had given me a scrap of paper (for the baby book) on which she'd scribbled Harrison and Isaac the morning of my boys' birth. Isaac is crossed out and Stuart penciled in, the updated version: Harrison Clay Hoegh and Stuart Thomas Hoegh. Done.

But not quite. Six weeks into life with new twins, my husband and I praised ourselves for the level at which we were functioning. We were beginning to talk in complete sentences again. We were catching sleep in two- and three-hour chunks.

One morning, Dan walked into the kitchen and glanced down at the baby I was nursing. "Is that Stuart or Hamilton?" he asked.

"Hamilton," I answered, proud of the growing ease with which I could tell my identical boys apart. A moment passed before Dan and I suddenly looked at each other, aghast. "We don't have a 'Hamilton'!" we said in unison.

It was a short time later that my carefully chosen names began to unravel. I should have seen it coming. My husband - who read the grain reports while I weighed names for their dignity - calls our other children Bing, Bugman, Smee, and Cheebus. One day he pointed out that in naming Harrison and Stuart, I had overlooked the possibility that a creative playground bully could someday call our boys Hairball and Stew-ball.

Those names mutated to Hair-Bear and Stu-Boo, which have since been shortened, lovingly, to Bear and Boo. Frankly, Bear and Boo doesn't look much better than Bridget and Bobette. Inverted, it's Boo-Bear. Names to carry with distinction for a lifetime.

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