Today I posted an article about naming kids. I have often said I enjoy naming people (and pets and things) so much, I wish I could be a professional namer. I even dream of getting that fabled job of naming paint colors.
Hence, when picking my sons' names it was a huge and exciting undertaking for me. I thought about it constantly. I made lists. I read books. I scoured movie credits, indexes and researched my family history for unique names. I even made up a few.
What I realized, however, was that picking a baby name was less about what I liked and more about compromising with Daddy. That said, I was forced to cross "Felix" and "Oscar" off my list immediately. ("Really? You hate Oscar? No, not as in the grouch, as in Wilde!")
In the end, we couldn't decide on just one, or two, so we picked three names. The first name: Kai River, and the middle name; William. Kai is a very popular name in Hawaii for boys and girls, but less popular here. It means "sea" and appears in the poetry of Gary Snyder, who has a son name Kai, too. I picked "River" because I have lived my life very close to the Milwaukee River and have spent countless hours walking and running along side it. William is my former husband's middle name.
A friend suggested once that my son's name was a tad too much on the hippie side. This hadn't occurred to me, until she said, "Kai River? Why don't you just put a bong in his crib?"
A lot of people, myself included, use both of my son's first names, but some shorten it to "Kai." I noticed, lately, he is doing this, too. It makes me a little sad because I find "Kai River" to be such a beautiful name. Then again, I'm biased. I picked it out. I thought I invented it, but a few years ago, a woman in Colorado emailed me, saying she had read a poem of mine online that referenced my son, Kai River, and that she, too, had a boy with the very same first name, spelled the same way. Her son was a year older than mine, but also had long brown hair. There are no new ideas, I guess. This blew me away.
My second son is named Levi. Partially because it's a Hebrew name. My father was Jewish, and Jews don't name after living people, so I couldn't pick one of his names (not that I would have wanted to, quite frankly, as they were "Ronald" and "Howard") but as my mentor, my hero and my best friend, I want to honor my dad in some way. I felt picking a Hebrew name was a wink in his direction.
I thought of the name Levi one day while saying all of the names of all of the brothers in "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." I had been in that musical in high school, so I knew it by heart. One of the songs lists all of the names of Joseph's brothers, and when I got to Levi, I thought. "Huh. Levi."
Of course, I immediately thought of the jeans, but decided Levi's are pretty neutral in connotation. Who doesn't like Levi's jeans?
When my son was 3 years old, he discovered he shared a name with a popular brand of pants while we were shopping at Kohl's Department Store. He saw a big sign for Levi's and started pointing and saying, "Mama! Mama! Look!" Then he started clapping with excitement, seeing his name, well the pluralized version of his name, in such large white letters on a red backdrop. I told him about the jeans. And then I bought him a pair. He remembers this.
I thought the name would become much more popular than it did, because less than a year after my son was born, actor Matthew McConaughey had a son and named him Levi, too. I was sensitive to the whole naming-your-kid-a-popular-name-unknowingly because I have a sister named Jenny / Jennifer. I grew up in the '80s with dozens of them in my school and in my life. I even heard multiple boys say, "All Jennies are crazy." I have thought and written about the Jenny phenomenon throughout my life.
Luckily, this didn't happen with the name Levi. We have heard of a couple of others, but never actually met one. Half the time people think I'm saying "Eli" when I say "Levi" anyway. I like how the letters, when rearranged, spell "evil" and yet it's also only one letter way from love. For me, those two words describe parenting to a tee.
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