Just before her ninth birthday, my daughter asked me how I’d chosen her name. Given that it’s one piece of parenting that I’ve never regretted, I’m happy to share that information with you now.
In the run-up to her birth, I’d had plenty of time to consider. I’d been hoping for her arrival for many years. All that time, I’d anticipated a Sophie, a Chloe or, best of all, a Catherine, the latter particularly favoured for its many variables. (An old friend, who spelt hers with a K, had run through most of the possibilities while we were at school, and my great-grandmother saw nothing wrong with christening two of her daughters Katie and Kathy.)
There was a touch-and-go moment when we thought that she might have turned out to be a boy, though I really longed for a little girl. In a weak moment, I agreed that if our baby turned out to be a boy, he could choose what to call it, whereas I had the naming rights over a girl. If indeed I had given birth to a boy, he would have rejoiced in the name of Munro, in honour of my (Scottish) husband’s hero, Sir Hugh Munro, who charted all the Scottish mountains with a height of over 3,000 feet. Not keen, I tried to influence his choice, suggesting Hamish as having a suitable heritage. “Och, no!” came the chorus of replies from his assembled Scottish relatives as we discussed possiblities in Kincardine-on-Forth. (Only later did I discover that Hamish is actually a Scottish derivative of James. As Gordon already had a son called James, we would have been stepping into Kathy-and-Katie territory here.) Laura regularly reminds us of her near miss and rolls her eyes , saying “I’m SO glad I was born a girl!”
Five months into my pregnancy, an amniocentesis confirmed categorically that I was carrying a girl – so Sophie, Chloe or Catherine she would be.
But then, just a few weeks before she was born, the name Laura suddenly came into my head, and I knew at once that was what she would be called. I’d never really known another Laura, but, post-rationalising, I can see that two of my heroines, both pioneers in different ways, were responsible for this inspiration.
I’d followed Laura Ashely’s ascent from cottage industry at her kitchen table to international style and fashion mogul, and I adored her style, even after it had long gone out of fashion. I mourned her premature death, while in my house, and in my wardrobe, she lives on . I suppose her early designs made me ever associate her name with all things pretty, natural, unpretentious and feminine – all things that I’d like a daughter of mine to be.
My other role model was Laura Ingalls Wilder. Forget the saccharine TV programmes that her books have spawned. Read those books instead. I defy anyone to fail to be awed by her and her family’s courage, optimism, self-reliance and flexibility (again, great qualities in any child) as they moved ever westward in search of the perfect place to settle. And of course, she wrote like an angel, a further quality that scores very highly with me. (I daresay her outfits would have charmed Laura Ashley, too.)
Anita Roddick (the admirable founder of Body Shop) would also have been in with a chance, if I didn’t dislike the name Anita. Had Cath Kidston raised her profile a little more before Laura’s birth, she could have kept me straight on the Catherine path.
But Laura she is, and there are plenty of other reasons that I adore the name. It’s pretty without committing its bearer to a certain image, size or shape (I’d never have risked a Grace, a Fleur or a Rose, just in case she turned out beefy). It’s classical, too, with a hint at Greek laurel wreaths – appropriate considering she was born 9 months after our stay in Athens.
It hasn’t been hijacked by Hollywood or the pop charts either – a phenomenon presumably to blame for the three Ethans in her school of 85 pupils (thank you, Mr Hawke) and the imminent Rihanna in reception. You have to feel for the hundreds of Kylies and Madonnas now hitting their twenties.
It’s a name everyone knows how to spell (I pity the poor child I came across whose parents decided to be different and christen their daughter Abbeygale).
But it’s not so common as to cause confusion. (I remember in my first class at secondary school there were four Susans in our class of thirty.)
It’s poetic without being twee or soppy, and classless and timeless, so it shouldn’t date.
Nine years on, I’ve never regretted my choice. The name hasn’t dated or gone out of fashion, nor been blighted by the bad behaviour of a celebrity Laura. Consequently I’m predisposed to like any new Lauras I encounter, whether in person, on the phone or online. I expect them to be sweet, kind, big-hearted and gentle – just like my Laura – and to have a healthy sense of humour too. In the last few days, I’ve added several new Lauras to my collection, and they’ve all complied with these expectations. I love the notion (and glorious phrase) of nominal determinism: the presumption that you will grow into the name you are given, although my rational side assures me that it must be nonsense.
My own name, Debbie, has its perks – for example, a recent survey showed it to be the top name for female CEOs (my brother and father’s name, Peter is top for men). But already it seems old-fashioned. I know quite a few Debbies, and there have been some pretty damn cool ones, from my best friend at primary school, Debbie Hasletine, to the peerless Debbie Harry of Blondie. But I don’t know any now under the age of thirty, and I suspect that in another twenty years, my name will have all the cachet of a Gladys.
But whatever fashion dictates, I know I’ll still have claim to one name that I will always love: and that name is Mummy.
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