When you’re not pregnant, babies’ names all seem temptingly romantic: Isobel, you think, yeah, Isobel, or Patrick or Christian or even Isolde, Greta, Courtney, Sebastian. Juliane. Kate. Nina. Daniel. Rosa.
But when you are actually pregnant, all names seem rubbish. Basically. Totally rubbish and completely inadequate for this actual live baby that’s kicking and squirming around inside your belly.
You would think it would make things easier when they tell you whether it’s going to be a boy or a girl, but it doesn’t:
We had, actually, told the doctor we didn’t want to know whether it was a boy or a girl or not, but she kind of forgot.
“Here you can see what it’s gonna be,” she said, smirking. “You can’t miss it.”
I looked at the screen automatically and couldn’t, literally, miss it. Can foetuses get erections? I wondered, slightly disgusted at the thought, and spent the next four days howling with disappointment whenever I saw a beautiful pink Baby-gro in Hennes & Moritz.
“At least now we know it’s a boy, it’ll be easier to choose a name for him,” said my husband, comfortingly.
“Yeah, that’s true,” I answered.
And I knew what I wanted. I knew quite clearly what I wanted. I wanted a magnificent, beautiful name, one that would be acceptable both in Germany – where my baby would be growing up – and in England – where I come from. I wanted a noble name.
“Daniel,” I said. “Daniel or Sebastian.”
The only trouble was my husband. He really wanted a name with the letter ‘U’ or ‘O’ in it. This was because his surname already had all the other vowels in it. Hmmmn. The only trouble is, German names with ‘U’s and ‘O’s in them are pretty ugly.
“Udo!” My husband suggested happily.
“Udo?” I asked him, aghast. “Udo is not a noble name.”
I looked at him in horror. “Bruno?” I repeated, shakily. “Bruno? He’s not a dog.”
“Okay, then,” my husband said. “It just has to have an ‘O’ in it. What about Oscar?”
“I haven’t eaten any tasty cheese, smoked a cigarette, or even looked at sushi for, like, ever. And you want me to go through this for what? A child called Oscar?”
I was horrified.
I was disgusted.
But more than that:
I was determined.
“He’s gonna be called Sebastian or Daniel,” I said. “And that’s that.”
“What about Sebastiano?” My husband asked.
“That’s not even a name,” I said.
A few weeks later, my husband came up with the name ‘Rico’. I guess I was so worn down by all the Brunos and Udos that I just couldn’t judge anymore.
“Yeah, that’s okay,” I admitted quietly. “Maybe he can have that as a middle-name. Sebastian Rico or something like that.”
But you know what? When they handed me my baby in the hospital, he wasn’t a Sebastian, and he wasn’t a Daniel, either. He just wasn’t noble enough – he was pretty angry. He was pretty fierce. He was bright red, purple, brown and black, and one of his eyes was all glued together, like a pirate. His hair was spiky like a Turkish popstar and his crying sounded like an alien’s. And as I held him in my shaky arms, I recognised him. I recognised his entire being. I knew he was the baby who had been inside my belly the whole time, kicking and twisting around, the baby I’d carried. It was the same person. And he was called Rico. I just knew he was.
“His name’s Rico, isn’t it?” I whispered to my husband. It wasn’t the perfect, noble name I’d wanted. But it was his name, I thought. A rock-star, terrorist, pirate, alien kinda name.
“He’s called Rico,” I said to the mid-wife.
The thing is, it’s a bit embarrassing, really, but what I didn’t know, is that it’s such a working-class name. I don’t know if I would have been so certain that day had I been aware of the class implications of calling your kid Rico. It’s like calling your kid Lee or Kevin or Gavin or something. A man on the train told me once that mine was the only Rico in the whole of Germany who wasn’t long-term unemployed. And when you walk past a group of drunks in the park, one of them will call out to another:, “Come here, Rico! Have another beer?”
When Rico hears them, he always calls out, “I am Rico, too! I am Rico!”
And he is.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem