Almost from the beginning of my pregnancy, I knew the name. A name that nodded at my parents, that spoke of my love for my child. A simple, strong, unusual but traditional name. I sang my belly a lullaby, and the first word was the perfect name.
The problem was, the name was for a boy.
I was one of those women who just knows. I felt him, his special testosterone-y boy energy, and people told me, “A mother knows. A mother can sense these things.”
I could sense that there was a tiny, tiny penis in there somewhere. I kept looking for it on the ultrasound. I kept thinking I saw it. There! Nope, a kidney. OK, then there! No, that’s an entire leg.
My mother’s sense is s--t, apparently.
“It’s a girl,” said my husband, wonderingly.
“Oh no,” I said, overwhelmed. “She doesn’t have a name!”
I resisted the urge to whip out my phone and start googling girls’ names, right then and there.
I politely waited until I was home, and then I spent the entire evening on my computer, reading lists of thousands of names. The next day, I read them all again. The day after that, I refined my search and started again. My eyes began to hurt a little. I canceled some plans. My daughter needed a name! I couldn’t think of her as complete without one. I wanted to call her something, when I recited my grocery list to my belly in the shower. It felt strangely imperative.
I felt increasingly desperate, but at least I knew where to start. I am Jewish and my husband isn’t. Since my daughter would have his last name, I wanted her first name to indicate her Jewish heritage.
As a girl, I struggled with my name—Kate—because I loved the lonely, determined glow of the eternal light in the synagogue. It hung above the ark where the faded Torah scrolls nestled, and I had the epic sense of being a part of something ancient and sacred, something small and hidden and warm. And Kate! Kate was an all-American girl with freckles and Christmas presents! She wasn’t me, with my bumpy nose and curly hair and my owlish eyes. At eight or so, when I first thought of this, I fancied myself very deep, strikingly unique. Kate was a common name; anyone could have it. I was disappointed. My parents, understandably, rolled their eyes, but the sense that I’d been given the wrong name never completely waned.
So I guess the beginning of my daughter’s name was my own name. Maybe it’s always this way, on some level?
After an anxious week of combing through the internet’s response to the search query “modern Jewish girl and unisex names”, I decided to name her Malka, which means “queen” in Hebrew. It was strong, different, ethnic, and evoked empowering imagery.
“I don’t hate it,” said my husband carefully.
“No, you LOVE it,” I said. “It’s perfect!”
“No…” he said, looking uncomfortable, “I don’t think I love it.” He was being sensitive, after the whole “I’m positive there’s a penis!” fiasco and my subsequent small google-oriented naming breakdown.
“Malka…” he said, trying it out. “It’s very…Hebrew. Kind of clunky.”
“Malka!” said my grandmother, before I could tell her the name. “Malka was your great-grandmother’s Hebrew name! I was trying to remember it…” (There’s a tradition of giving children an English and a Hebrew name.)
It was a sign! It was a good omen!
I called my husband at work, which I never do. This was important enough. “We have to name her Malka,” I said.
“If it’s that important to you, we will,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s right. What about my family?” His family is Swedish and Irish.
Damn it. He was right.
We deliberated. We stayed up at night, deliberating. We came up with a list of requirements for the name. Ideally, it would be:
-Personally meaningful (we wanted the name to feel special when we said it)
-Jewish in origin but not SO Jewish-sounding that it was confusing to non-Jews or made our daughter sound like her father studies Talmud all day long rather than being the adorably goyish secular intellectual he is
-Easy to spell and pronounce
-Not too girly or playful (in case she wanted to be a judge or something else very serious one day)
-Short instead of long
-Ending in a consonant instead of a vowel (so many girls’ names end with an ‘a’ that I found myself avoiding that pattern)
-Great nickname included
-No mean puns that spring instantly to mind upon hearing it
We decided to each compose a list of our top five to ten names and then exchange them and see if any overlapped. At the end of the day we emailed each other the names. That night we shared the winners. There was only one that we’d both chosen. It surprised both of us.
It was a little edgier than we’d imagined. It was a little less obviously Jewish-sounding than I’d thought. It was a little more biblical than I’d initially hoped, but in a funky, creative way that didn’t feel hyper-religious or heavy with the weight of a character’s well-known history. It was technically unisex, but sounded feminine to both of us. But most of all, when I said it aloud, I felt shivery with excitement.
It sounded like open space and the luxurious green of untouched nature (a beautiful, yearning image for city dwellers like us). It sounded like something everyone is searching for. It sounded like it belonged to a girl or a woman who could take on the world. It sounded like a name my eight-year-old self would’ve been jealous of.
“Eden,” said my husband, trying it out. “Hi, Eden,” he said to my belly. He looked thoughtful. He smiled.
In the story, Eden is the place where everything began. Having a baby felt radical to me, risky, sudden. It felt like a willingness to interrupt the life I’d chosen for myself and the career I’d fought hard to pursue. It felt like opening myself up to something simultaneously totally normal and completely wild, extreme. Creating a life felt like the beginning of a whole new life for me.
Eden is my beginning, the place where I made myself vulnerable and new. And she holds the potential for everything within her.
And also, she has a really cute, clunky nickname: Edie!
Just in case all of that meaning gets to be a bit much.
(Although so far, at six months, we mostly just call her “Bean,” for reasons I can’t remember.)
P.S. Her Hebrew name is Malka
- Daily Life