Ben-ha-meen and Leon

Names are tricky.  When I was pregnant with Benjamin, and found out we were expecting a boy, I knew we were in big trouble.  We’d had a girl’s name chosen for years (since back before we even really intended to have kids) but we’d never even gotten close to agreeing on a boy’s name.  When we found out we were expecting, we’d tabled the discussion in the hopes that we were having a girl and wouldn’t have to ever slog through the process of reaching a compromise.

We struggled.  There were only a few names that at least one of us did not strongly dislike (honestly, the main problem was that Dan was shockingly picky about boys’ names and I just happened to dislike several of the only 5 or 6 he considered acceptable).  In the end, we had a list of about 8 names to choose from which were at least passable to both of us, but we each had a strong favorite.  We each lobbied for our favorite but (grudgingly) acknowledged that the other would do.

In a surprising twist, as soon as B was born, when first we looked upon him, we each (unbeknownst to the other) changed our minds.  Dan decided he preferred the name I’d been advocating for while I suddenly felt that Dan’s favorite name would be perfect.  Benjamin went on to spend his first three days without a name until Dan finally decided to let me choose.

Of course, at the time, we could not have foreseen that we’d be living in Austria less than 3 years later.  Benjamin is a valid, if not overly common, name in Austria (and seems to belong almost exclusively to Jewish children — names cross cultures much less often here).  Generally, people don’t have trouble parsing it, though everyone wants to call him Ben (which he has decided he doesn’t like) and they pronounce it “Ben-ha-meen”, which sometimes bothers him.

With Liam, we really ought to have been able to anticipate a possible move to Austria, but we didn’t consider how well his name would work here, and we thus gave him a name that almost no one in Austria can pronounce correctly.  Most people mishear it as Leon, Lia or Leo.  (The only places in the world we’ve so far found where that doesn’t happen are the UK and Ireland, where everyone hears “Liam” just fine the first time and absolutely no one considers it the least bit unusual.  Of course.)  With Liam, however, we had the good fortune to actually agree on a name well before he was born.  (“Liam” was on the short list of names when we were expecting B, but it had become the favorite for each of us in the intervening years.)  After the months-long process of choosing B’s name, it was a nice surprise to choose a name for Liam in about 10 minutes.

Choosing names for my children was such a massive responsibility, and I tried so hard to give them names that would be easy to understand, that were well known but not wildly popular, and which would work for them at all phases of their lives.  I considered their names only from an American perspective, though, since it was the only perspective I had.  Now it turns out that my logic has been trumped by geography, and, if I am successful in raising boys who move easily through the world, this may be just the beginning of their experience with trying out their names throughout the world (for better or for worse).

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