A psychic told my mother I would have two daughters. So obviously my first born is to be a boy babe.
My partner and I are both big on what I will call ‘dual naming’: a first name with gravitas and cool nickname to accompany it.
We live in London, England (I’m going to go further and specify we live in Hackney, which is hipster central with kids called Blue and Axel and Maple proliferating), I'm Canadian (with English family here and Scandi-Irish roots), he is English (solidly), and we are both criminal barristers (poor child). He is self-conscious re: the class system whilst I have the freedom not to be. We have the most English royal first names imaginable: he likes his, I hate mine. Surname will either be hyphenated Scandi (mine)- English-first name-as-last name (his), or mine as second middle with his.
I’ve been reading your column since before my partner or this babe were a sparkle in my eye, and in truth I did not imagine needing your help because I had so many great ideas! Ah, hubris. The “tragedy" is that the venn diagram between mine and my partner's taste is small (tiny to infinitesimal for female names, so dodged a protracted negotiation there), but also surprising. Generally, what I call interesting/strong/unique he calls pretentious/ugly/weird. He thinks I have "out there" taste and wants something “solid”. I feel he is more adept at crossing names off the list rather than adding to it.
Names we both like (maybe even love) but can't use because of friends/family - Albert (Bertie!), Frances (Frank!), Theodore (saving the female version just in case).
Names I like which have been definitively vetoed - Laurence, Leonard, Barnaby, Johan, Edwin, Reuben, Julian, Raphael.
He suggested Frederick, but not only is that is the name of my family dog, I cannot bear the idea of being that (another?) barrister couple calling their “Freddeh” in the grocery store. He also suggested Casper, to me forever a ghost. I came back with Jasper which he is not into. I suggested Gilbert for Albert; a resounding no.
Which brings me to the shortlist: We both like Gabriel. And we both REALLY like Cosmo. COSMO - his suggestion, no one more surprised than me. Mo for cute. Yet, I hesitate. Gabriel in moments feels too earnest and maybe lacking in quirk, and at the other end, Cosmo is pretty f*#king bold… and then we added Rufus to the list.
We got this far, which was reassuring, for a moment. I don’t know if it is the over-thinking from early on, or the hormones taking a turn, but I suddenly feel at sea. I don’t trust my judgment, and I don’t know what I love anymore. To complicate matters, my partner, though on board with Cosmo/Rufus, also asserts that as they are a bit ‘out there’, we should bestow Boy Babe with a “nice normal” middle name in case Boy Babe rejects his parents’ choice.
Middle name options were looking likely to be family tributes, possibly Hector, Francis, Wilfrid, or previous first name contender now bumped back is Gabriel. And my suggestions of Inigo/Ignatius, Jethro, Absalom and Leander have been met with “are you serious?”
But, are we missing a trick? Or, let’s say we stuck our chins out and put Cosmo on the birth certificate, what middle name flows from that? What name combination will sound like they were meant to sit there side by side in perfect harmony? Cadence matters to me and I am fond of alliteration, but that may need to also tick the “nice normal” box…is this even possible? Your column has been a source of delight for me over the years and I hope that in my time of need it will now be a source of much needed inspiration!
This letter was so entertaining and full of personality that I got to the end and thought to myself. “Yes? What’s the problem?” I would love to write a series of paragraphs in what I imagine would be my own self-clarifying barrister-ese and which would probably offend actual barristers, but I’m already long-winded enough. Plus, though I really enjoyed this letter, which read like a story and had developing characters and side-plots and witty asides, the writing of it almost obscures your problem… but here it is.
You can’t imagine actually raising a child with the name you want to choose.
I know that’s bold. But you know I’m right. The names you might have chosen – Julian or Raphael or Albert or Gabriel – strike you as too staid or done somehow. The names you want to choose – Cosmo and Rufus, with nicknames and all – makes you second-guess yourself. “Can we really do this?”
I’ll be honest with you – usually I don’t put a ton of stock into people’s middle name choices, as 85% of the time people put the name there that they think ‘sounds’ best or that otherwise helps them fit some familial or cultural expectation they want to include. There’s no shade here, I did it myself. But in your case, your middle names are telling me a whole lot more. Jethro and Absalom? I never, ever do this, but I’m going to go ahead and echo the ‘Are you serious?!’ but for a totally different reason…
You’re so worried about the ‘out there’ name you might choose that you’re hoping to couch it with a ‘nice normal’ middle name, or so worried about choosing a first name so bland that the middle name will reassure you that you have some personality – when in truth, you’re brimming with personality and choices, you’re just not sure if you can commit to them.
A name that you both REALLY like – especially in the absence of many others – should be a no-brainer. You should name your baby Cosmo. You should further remember that this kid is going to grow up knowing that’s his name, and never think it’s any more outlandish than any other name you might choose. There’s no reason for him to need to default to his middle name and ‘hide’ in it.
That said, you won’t need to prove how cool you are by calling him Cosmo Jethro – and I object to this combination not because it’s ‘f*cking bold’ but because even I recognize that there’s a limit to the affection for ‘o’ names, one which eliminates Absalom and Inigo and maybe Hector, if we’re getting stringent about it.
To me, Cosmo Gabriel, or Cosmo Francis or Cosmo Ignatius (note my weakness for Latin saints names here) is going to fit beautifully into the cultural and name landscape you describe – but not if you’re constantly apologizing for it or second-guessing it. The same could be true for Rufus, of course, except that the relative lack of evangelizing about it tells me it’s more of a ‘yeah, sure’ than a true beloved option.
But you have to get behind it and believe it’s really his name, not just an indication of how much you’re not like the other couples who call their sons ‘Freddeh’ in the grocery store. No name, no matter how cool, is going to work if you’re a bit embarrassed and sheepish about it – and by contrast, no name is too out there if you really truly believe it’s the one you love best, and you’re not just choosing it to prove a point. In short, if you thought Cosmo (which has always been firmly posh-British for me as a result of Bridget Jones’ Diary and the storied Cosmo and Woney) was the right choice when you heard it, nothing anyone else might think of it – including the boy himself, when he’s old enough to have an opinion – should change that. Even then I’d question the source, as a young person I co-named recently informed me that I should have chosen ‘Finger’. As a first name.
So go ahead and choose Cosmo because you love it, and because you can see yourself raising him, but don’t give yourself all kinds of grief about whether or not it’s too ‘far’, because it’s not too far if you can actually see yourself doing it, and it is outrageously too far if you imagine yourself giggling into each others’ elbows when it comes time to actually put it on the birth certificate.
But I think you can, and should. And while I’m not psychic, I’m going to say you probably will.
Let us know!