by Brian Clarey

Taking names

We named her Rosaleen, using the Gaelic spelling, though in any language it means the same thing: a little rose. It had the right amount of syllables to create a rhythm with her surname when you say it out loud. Plus we’d call her “Rosie.” I loved that.

It’s a family name,  too, with several variations on both sides, though I suppose the same could be said for many families.

Had she been born just a few years earlier, Rose would have been her middle name. The original plan, if we had a girl, was to name her Prytania, after our favorite street in the city of New Orleans.

Prytania Street documents a good portion of the city’s socioeconomic spectrum as it moves way Uptown from the theater all down through the Garden District, merging with Camp Street over by Lee Circle and the bridge, past camelback shotgun shacks and ivy-covered wrought iron, cemeteries and shops, the hospital where my first child was born. The live oaks arch across from either side, making parts of Prytania Street feel like going through a living tunnel.

Then someone — I forget who — told us that the name Prytania might possibly get abbreviated to the nickname “Pretty.” We had real problems with that.

For our daughter’s middle name, we chose another of the Crescent City’s beautiful thoroughfares: Octavia Street, which can take you from Tchoupitoulas Street along the river all the way past Claiborne.

She would be Rosaleen Octavia Clarey. It was perfect.

And then T-Bone came along. T-Bone is the brainchild of another of my children, the 11-year-old. He was thinking about giving himself a nickname before his first middle school term began. He settled quickly on T-Bone, but wasn’t sure how he could implement it, how he could get everyone else to use it.

“You could bring a T-bone steak in for lunch every day,” I suggested.

My son, who has never seen an episode of “Seinfeld,” thought it a brilliant plan, but in this case not very practical. Then he had an idea.

“On the first day of school, when the teacher asks what you want to be called,” he said, “I’m gonna say, ‘T-Bone.’” It seemed solid. He ran to tell his mother the news, only to return moments later, his little shoulders in a slump.

“Mommy is not on board with T-Bone,” he told me.

And so it went, but his little sister Rosie, tucked in her room playing with small toy animals at the time, must have overheard the conversation, because when the first day of school came along, she enacted a caper of her own.

When her teacher asked my daughter, all of 8 years old, what she would like to be called, she responded, “Octavia.”

Octavia! I was flattered. And puzzled. And more than a little impressed.

People don’t like the names their parents gave them, especially when they’re kids. I didn’t like my own name until I first saw it in print. I would have loved to have been a Clyde, or a Ben, or even a Benjy. I, like many other parents, sincerely thought that my children would be thrilled with the “cool” names we chose for them. Now Jacksons and Taylors swarm the playgrounds. A friend in New York City tells me his daughter has three friends named Astrid. Three!

Everyone hates her name. But my little girl decided to do something about it, and in one quick decision made while she was playing with figurines on the floor of her room, she changed her whole identity.

I realize I sound like a gushing parent here, but I’ve rarely seen anything like it in my life. The closest I can think of is an old friend of mine who decided abruptly, in his 50 th year, that he preferred to dress in women’s clothes when he went out drinking, or the girl I went to high school with who changed her name to Madison after she graduated college and moved to Manhattan.

I support them all. We should all be free to create our own identities, be who we choose to be. That’s why, on the first day of school, the teacher asks each student what he wants to be called. That’s the whole point.

I understood my little girl’s impulse — she felt like an Octavia, and therefore she was.

And then, the other day, I asked her about it.

“Oh,” she said. “I just liked Octavia better. And also because of My Little Pony.”

What? “Yeah,” she said. “There’s a My Little Pony named Octavia Melody. She plays the cello.”

Oh. I suppose that’s why we don’t let children pick their own names. If we did, half of them would be running around calling themselves “Batman.”

It’s also why I’m still going to call her “Rosie.” My Little Pony indeed.