The baby-name game: Parents look to family, popular culture, and even books for their ideas

7/19/2009
BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tim and Terry Fejes of Martin, Ohio, with their 17-year-old daughter, Marlee Hope.
Tim and Terry Fejes of Martin, Ohio, with their 17-year-old daughter, Marlee Hope.

For years, John and Mary ruled the nursery. But eventually they were deposed by James and Linda, who had to step aside for Jennifer and Michael, who were in turn bumped by Jessica and Christopher.

Today's young power couple is Emma and Jacob, according to the Social Security Administration's list of the top baby names for 2008.

But name trends don't matter much to a lot of parents. Many name their children for beloved relatives, some for their cultural heroes. Some invent names that have a special meaning to them. Some turn to baby-name books for inspiration.

Agreeing on a child's name can be the first challenge of parenthood.

"We argued about names right up until my contractions were a minute apart," said Kandace York of Luckey, Ohio. She said she and her husband, Ken, had come up with several possible names for their twin girls, but "we were completely undecided until we were in the delivery room."

One might suspect they were tempted by names starting with "K," to add to their matching set. "We wanted to be sure that we didn’t do that," Ms. York said. And, wanting their twins to be treated as individuals, they rejected the idea of cute rhyming or alliterative names.

"We wanted something a little bit unusual," she added, "but not so unusual that they would have to spell their names for other people their whole life, like I have to."

In the end, they chose Emmalyn and Alexa.

Emmalyn’s name came from a 1916 Waite High School yearbook that fell open to the same page when each of the parents opened it. Pictured on that page was an Emmalyn Carmen Ott, whose first name charmed them both. (They’ve tried in vain to find out more about her.)

Alexa’s name is a blend of Mrs. York’s father’s name, Alvin, and Mr. York’s grandfathers, Alfred and Alexander.

Donna Okapal of West Toledo took the same approach in naming her daughter 20 years ago. As a way to thank her parents for their support during her pregnancy, she combined the names of her father, Al, and mother, Jane, to create the name Janeal (pronounced "Janelle").

Marlee Fejes’ first name is a blend of her grandmothers’ names, said her mother, Terry Fejes of Martin, Ohio. She took "Mar" from Marie, her mother-in-law, and combined it with "Lee," her mother’s nickname.

Her middle name is another story.

When Marlee was born at just 23 weeks, she wasn’t expected to live through the night. That’s when Mrs. Fejes decided on a middle name: Hope.

Today, Marlee is 17 and a junior in the business office technology program at Penta Career Center.

Forresta Siebenaler of West Toledo wishes she had a dollar for every time she’s had to explain her unusual first name. Here’s the story: Her father, Forrest, wanted his daughter to be named after him, so her mother, Frances, added an "a" to his name. It’s pronounced "For-rest-a," with the accent on the second syllable.

Cathy Huber of West Toledo used her maiden name, McLean, as a middle name for her first daughter, Elizabeth. Her second daughter was named Ann Catherine — the reverse of her own name.

Three-month-old Drusella Eva-Ann Roberts carries a lot of family history in her name.

Her mother, Tabitha Roberts of East Toledo, said she picked out a name for a daughter five years ago: Drusella was Mrs. Roberts’ great-grandmother’s middle name, Eva comes from her great-aunt, who died in 2001 of breast cancer, and Ann is her mother.

The name is "a carryon, because I love these women so much," Mrs. Roberts said.

Lucky for Jessica and Rudy McNeal of Springfield Township that they had such great naming material on both sides of the family that they had a name even before they had a pregnancy. Their 2 -month-old son is Hudson Payne McNeal — "Hudson" is Mrs. McNeal’s mother’s maiden name, and "Payne" is her mother-in-law’s maiden name.

Jenny Christensen’s parents meant to give her the same middle name as her paternal grandmother. It didn’t work out that way, but she’s not complaining.

"My dad had always assumed that her middle initial ‘A’ stood for Anne," Ms. Christensen, of Ottawa Lake, Mich., wrote in an e-mail. Later they discovered that "A" was for "Artemesia," the name of a character in a book.

"I’m just grateful I didn’t end up Jennifer Artemesia!" she added.

Sometimes the name of an entertainer, athlete, politician, or other public figure strikes one’s fancy.

Patty Dempsey of Monclova Township said she was only 7 when she came up with the name for her oldest daughter. Deanne is named for Deanna Durbin, a Hollywood movie star of the 1930s and ’40s.

Robin Roecker’s first name came from a female character on the soap opera The Guiding Light in 1954, according to her mother, Betty Roecker of Williston, Ohio. "I had never heard this name as a girl’s name before," she said.

Colin Michael Odneal, born in 1984, was named after singer-songwriter Jesse Colin Young and Colin Irish, a basketball standout at Bowling Green State University, according to his mother, Kelly Odneal of Oregon.

A favorite president — John F. Kennedy — inspired the name of Kennedy John McDaniel, 9. He’s the fourth of five sons of Angie and Troy McDaniel of Rossford, who took turns naming their children. Kennedy’s name was Mr. McDaniel’s choice.

Frances Sweeney of East Toledo named her daughter Patrice, after singer Patrice Munsel, who in the 1940s sang in Metropolitan Opera productions and in 1957-58 had her own television show on ABC.

And Logan and Rebecca Rouppas, of the Trilby area of West Toledo, named their son Ledger, after the late actor Heath Ledger. His middle name is Wesley-Allen, his grandfathers’ names.

Ideas can come from anywhere — even the obituary page.

Diana Salazar of South Toledo found a name for her daughter in a 1981 Blade obituary on Natalie Wood, which noted that the actress was born "Natasha,"

"When I saw the name in print I thought it looked pretty. So, Natasha it is," she explained.

Ryan and Janet Moore’s search for the perfect baby name was a case of March Madness.

"We didn’t want anything that was too popular, and we didn’t want anything that was way out there," said Mr. Moore of West Toledo.

They started with a long list of possibilities they found in baby name books, then went through two rounds of cuts to end up with 12 names for boys and 10 names for girls.

Mrs. Moore seeded her brackets, pairing them up from her most to least favorite. Mr. Moore drew names out of a hat to make his pairings.

From that process emerged the Final Four.

"We each had one boy name and one girl name that we liked, so we took two boys’ names and two girls’ names into the delivery room," Mr. Moore continued. When their daughter was born in April, "we just kind of went with what we liked when we saw her for the first time."

She’s Callie Jean, with her middle name honoring Mrs. Moore’s grandmother.

Siblings occasionally get into the naming act.

Marilyn Stevenson of Ottawa Lake, Mich., said she was named by her older brother.

Here’s how it happened: "My parents had seven children, six girls and one boy. My brother was the second born and became very frustrated when one sister after another joined the family. When my parents announced another pregnancy, they told my brother that he could name the baby. I was born when he was 9 years old. He had a boyhood crush on a girl named Marilyn and decided that would be a good name for me."

Likewise, Cheryl Brockman’s parents told her that she could name baby No. 7.

Then 8 years old, she chose "Queen Elizabeth," for the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II, and "Liberace," for the flamboyant entertainer. "I adored him," she said.

Her mother wasn’t keen on the idea. In fact, she told Ms. Brockman later that it was the most miserable pregnancy of her life because she knew if it was a boy she wouldn’t be able to name him Liberace, and that would break Cheryl’s heart.

"She was so happy when she had a girl," said Ms. Brockman of South Toledo. Ms. Brockman was happy, too, and proud of her role in naming her baby sister. She didn’t even mind that they dropped "Queen" and made it simply Elizabeth.

Sometimes, names that seem like a good idea at the time have troublesome consequences.

Just ask Jerry and Gerry Kline of Maumee, who named their children Sherry Jo and Gary Joe.

"Through the years it was just a mass of confusion," Mrs. Kline said. "We had this happen with our names, and with the kids’ names."

But she’s not sure she would choose different names for the kids if she had it to do over again.

"Maybe I would have if I’d known the confusion it would cause, but it’s brought so much humor in our married life," Mrs. Kline said.

Contact Ann Weber at:

aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.