A name is a name

~~ Originally printed in The Chapel Hill (NC) Weekly, June 2012 ~~

If anyone had told me when my beautiful babies were placed in my trembling, greedy arms that I would one day address them as Balls, Brake, and Tob, I would have been indignant at best.

Language fascinates me to no end, and I love the idea of a group collectively deciding that this bedcover made of stitched-together fabric scraps is a “quilt,” and that feathered, beaked creature is a “bird.” Naming is a fascinating process, and the fact that I could bring people into the world and christen them with a moniker of my choosing was absolutely thrilling.

In 1994, when Bailey was born, I was 24 years old. Since, oh, around 1979 I’d thought that Bailey was the coolest name a little girl could have. Her middle name is Elizabeth, same as me, same as my mom. And, yeah, she is pretty cool.

Blake joined us in 1997. I was pursuing a Master’s degree at NCSU when I found out I was pregnant. (Yes, I finished!) I had become deeply enamored of William Blake’s work during a course on British Romantic literature and decided that if I had another girl I would name her after him. Her middle name is Christine, for my stepfather’s sister, and my baby girl is a poet, I tell you.

Caleb was born on 9/9/1999. He has my paternal grandfather’s first name. His middle name is James, after his father, his father’s father, and my father. Caleb showed an early affinity for words. One of his favorite things as a preschooler was to read words backwards or to try to form anagrams. In first and second grades he would sign his school papers “Belac” and “Cable.”

At some point there began a babytalking sensation in our house. Pretty soon, all the kids were turning their Ls and Rs into Ws or some close approximation. Among the children, Caleb answered to Caweb. Blake was Bwake. Bailey was Baywee.

And then a sort of Galåpagean evolution happened. If I tried to map it, it would look something like this:

Bailey: Bailz: Baywee: Bally: Balls

Blake: Bwake: Bwate: Brake

Caleb: Caweb: Taweb: Tob

These names were always something between the kids, but now they’ve become a bit more permanent. I find myself calling out “Balls!” to my daughter when we are in public. I ask the others, “Where’s Brake?” And I leave notes on the table like: “Tob, take out the trash.” It’s a bit strange, but a Caleb is a Taweb is a Tob, and by any name they are still my bundles of joy.


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