Shortly after my honeymoon, I began pondering names for the kids I hoped to have. We weren’t yet trying for a baby, but the weight of the naming responsibility hit me like a 700-page baby-name book. With so many things to consider, nine months might not be enough time.

For starters, my husband’s common last name called for a more unusual given name. I compiled a secret list of less common baby names that combined melodiously with his surname. I rejected friends’, relatives’, and celebrities’ names; tested combos for goofiness (think: Robin Banks, Barb Dwyer, Anna Sasin); and made sure that future monograms wouldn’t spell negative words (ie: JAB, BUB, FIB). After the necessary eliminations, I settled on some favorites.

Two years later, I was expecting, and the pressure was on. We bought three baby-name books, and I researched meanings in them to winnow my secret list. Recalling my mom’s dismay that Kathy, my Kindergarten teacher’s pet name for me, had stuck, I scrutinized potential nicknames for my selections. The bindings on the books were coming loose when I arrived at my first choices: Chelsea and Austin.

We chose to remain unaware of our baby’s gender, yet my husband focused on boys’ baby names during our discussions. “I don’t like Austin,” he proclaimed.

When a last-minute ultrasound revealed that we’d soon have a daughter, we didn’t have time to confer on girls’ baby names until we were in the labor room between contractions, a time that can afford a mom a definite advantage, I learned.

Not long before the delivery, my husband looked at me sympathetically and asked what I wanted to name her.

“Chelsea,” I said. “What’s your pick?”

“Nicole,” he said.

“How about if we name her Chelsea Nicole?” I asked, shifting into my breathing pattern as another contraction came on.

“Okay,” he agreed easily. Shortly thereafter, Chelsea Nicole made her grand entrance into the world.

Two years later, I was pregnant again, and the boy baby name debate resurged. It was clear that Austin was out of the question. We both loved James, but with my husband’s surname it became the name of a ‘60s music icon, so we agreed on it for a middle name. For a first name, we hit upon Oliver. Oliver James, it was settled.

That is, until I shared it with my co-workers. “Baby Ollie!“one of them shouted gleefully. And there it was, the nickname that made me grimace.

When 2-year-old Chelsea heard my next choice, Joshua, she lit up, chanting, “I  want to name him Joshua!” Her irresistibly charming opinion notwithstanding, her father was not a fan of the name.

When my labor began, we still hadn’t agreed. But this time, contractions didn’t afford me any leverage over the baby’s seasoned delivery-room dad. For the first day of our son’s life, he remained nameless. The next morning, we compared our lists of favorites and found a name on both: Ryan.

Not as rare as I’d hoped for, it met all my other criteria. Before heading home, we named our baby boy Ryan James. Instantly, it seemed to fit. That’s the thing about a name: Once you give it to a child, the two become one.

Teenagers now, Chelsea and Ryan, both wrinkle their noses at the monikers they might have received. They can’t imagine themselves having any other names, and neither can I.

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