About 6 hours into child labor, Diana asked me what name should we choose for our coming son. I looked at the short list of names we had decided on as possibilities and she said, “Oliver, let’s name him Oliver.” Without disagreement or discussion, I agreed with Diana. In retrospect she probably could have won my approval for almost any decision that would affect both of us like the paint color for our new house or where we would take our next vacation.When people ask me how we came up with the name for our son, I usually tell them that story. It’s true, this actually did happen, but there’s a little bit more to it than me going along with Diana during a tense and stressful moment.
We knew Ollie was going to be a boy as soon as the technician could see. Even before she could “officially” see that Ollie was a boy, she said that she was 90% sure. Diana and I figured that we would have enough surprises in our life even with knowing our baby’s gender.
This allowed me to have time to unpack and work through my feelings about having a son and kept the baby gifts from being all yellow and green.
We figured out a couple things that were important with our son's name:
1. Our son needed a first name that was more than one syllable because of having a last name that was one syllable.For the first couple weeks after we found out we were having boy, this is how it worked: Diana would come up with a list of names and I would reject almost all of them because I previously had a student with that same name. This is a thing that teachers have to deal with. We associate names strongly with certain students that we like or dislike. Of course if there’s a student who is more challenging you don’t want to name them that and even if you use a name of a student you like, it can feel weird.
2. We wanted our son to have a unique name that not everyone had, however we didn’t want our son to have a name that people would have trouble spelling or think was crazy.
3. It was important we like both the full name and the nickname.
4. Since his last name is Chinese we wanted his first name to reflect his Welsh and Polish heritage.
I estimate that in the past seven years I’ve taught around seven hundred students. So there’s a lot of names that I have strong feelings about. While Diana got frustrated about this, she understood this and we continued to work together to find names that might work.
After looking through multiple baby name books, the names that made it to our short list came up from our own ideas or from friends. It was the latter process that led us to Ollie’s name.
Diana’s friend Alice really loves the name Oliver but her boyfriend is named Ali, so she has given up that name for her future baby because of the confusion between Ollie and Ali. That’s where we got “Oliver.”
Over breakfast one of my friend's Allie told me that if she was a boy, her parents were going to name her Jameson. We laugh about the connection with the name of an Irish Whiskey but after thinking about it, Jameson made the list as well. The origins and meanings of these names made sense. Oliver is associated with olive and its symbolism of peace. Jameson means “son of James” which works, as James is a family name for Diana’s family. It’s one of her brother’s middle names.
Then there was the discussion of whether we would do “Jameson Oliver,” or “Oliver Jameson.” We don’t mind Jamie Oliver but there was the issue of O.J. associated with the not so revered football player.
What’s interesting is that all of these cultural associations and well as well as the fact that many names remind of students I have taught ended up not being of any real significance. Last school year I taught three boys named Oliver and when I think of the name Oliver, or look at my boy, I don’t think about any of those students I’ve taught that share his name.
Names are important, but the meanings we attach to names are often fluid and the same name can have multiple associations good and bad. Yes, cultural history is important and family heritage should be considered, but I don’t think choosing Ollie’s name was one of the most important decisions we made. The name is a big decision but it's more about the identity that one creates around their name than the name itself.
If you ever met Ollie, you would agree that somehow we landed on the perfect name for our special little guy.