What’s In Her Name?

We call her Elie Mae. Well, wait. Let’s back up. Her full name, the one we put on the birth certificate, is Eliot Mae Harris.

You have it in your mind that the whole birth certificate thing is a really big deal. Like there’ll be an ancient scribe with a long beard sitting to the left of your stirruped legs, and as soon as the baby slides out, he’ll jump to his feet, hold out his long scroll and quill, and ask,

“And what shall the babe be called, my lady?”

That’s when you’ll look longingly at your husband as a sweaty double rainbow appears on your glistening forehead. The baby has magically hopped into your bosom and is suckling in between gentle coos. You say,

“We shall call her…Eliot. Eliot Mae Harris. The Harris after her father, of course. The Mae, my lord, was the middle name of two great-grandmothers. And the Eliot, well, that’s from a syndicated TV show called Scrubs.”

Then the rainbow fades, the scribe frowning at the reference to Scrubs in this very serious situation.

It’s true, you know, about the name. Several months before my pregnancy began, my husband Paul and I  started watching reruns of Scrubs after work. I’d never seen the show in primetime, so it was news to me when the blond female doctor was called “Elliot.”

Eliot, for a girl. Hmm…Like a double rainbow of a name. Oh my god, what does this mean?! It’s so beautiful.


So I added it to my list of possible baby names, which I’ve been keeping since I can remember. You know, I was three years old when I first got scared that I was with child. I thought that any person of the female persuasion could pop up pregnant as long as she was alive. I asked my mom while she was folding sheets,

“But what if I get pregnant?”

“Oh, you’re not going to get pregnant, Taylor.”

“But how do you know?”

“I’ll get you a book on that.”

Well if I couldn’t get pregnant, the least I could do was keep a list of names handy. You know, just in case my mother was wrong about this whole immaculate Kindergarten conception thing.

Side note: My mom never got me that book. I’m still not sure how I ended up pregnant.

Speaking of my mother, she is totally the Midwestern Naming Czar. Names were so important to us growing up. My sisters and I all knew that we had two middle names, one of which was Swahili. We are not from Africa–I mean we are, but we aren’t. We are like from Ohio.

So my oldest sister’s Swahili name was “Panya.” Countless times I heard the story growing up:

“Panya means ‘tiny as a mouse.’ So that’s how we named your sister.”

I swallowed that story. I believed it. I breathed that stuff.

Then I met a Kenyan.

“Jackson,” I told him, “my oldest sister’s middle name is Panya.” I couldn’t get any further.

“Panya?!” He practically spit. “Panya?! No one would name their child that. Panya means rat!”

Afrocentric naming from a book sold in a Midwest grocery store: FAIL.

Still, though, with a name like Taylor–which, I will remind you, was uncommon for a girl back in 1983–I had to give my daughter a unisex, edgy name. OR a southern belle sort of throw back name like Adelaide.

If it was a boy, Paul wanted a junior. I used a line on him I’d heard on the gospel radio station to shoot that down. “Junior? Juniors are so 90s. Plus, look in the Bible. Was there an Abraham junior? An Isaac junior? No, they had their own names.”

I digress. We had a girl. We named her Eliot. The only thing literary about it is the spelling. And it’s totally faux-literary because I can’t tell you a squirrel’s nut about T.S. or George. I think it’s sort of like selling a fake Louis Vuitton, you know, naming your daughter like that while being clueless and all. I’ll just stand out on my corner, holding Eliot under a long coat, and shout “WATCHES, GOLD WATCHES” to neighbors passing by. I’m a fraud.

But back to the whole birth certificate shindig. Sorry to pop your whoopee cushion, but there is no scribe. It’s an ordinary woman. With brown hair. And she simultaneously knocks and walks into your hospital room while you are trying to figure out if that plastic cone is a nipple shield or water gun. And she’s all,

“Can you fill this out right now and give it back to me? For your baby. A birth certificate. Get it later in the mail.”

And she’s totally drunk.

No, wait. I added that last part. She’s sober for the most part. But she wears one of those beer helmets with the plastic straws in her mouth.

And that’s all there is to it.

That doesn’t answer the question about Eliot’s nickname, though.

Elie Mae. I’m not in seminary, but I’m pretty sure it’s a derivative of the Hebrew name, Jehoshaphat, which is properly translated “girl with cheeks who eats biscuits.” Because that’s Eliot. She has chubby cheeks and looks to be the type who will gobble shortcake.

It all started with my sister Sienna. She started calling her “Elie Mae” in this great, Gone With the Wind accent. And you know how it builds. Then it became, “Elie Mae, get back here with those biscuits! It ain’t dinnertime yet!” Or, “Elie Mae, you eat those string beans before that pound cake!” And so on…

Anyway, call her Eliot. Or call her Elie Mae. But don’t call her just Elie. And if you’re going to say Elie Mae, the least you can do is say it with conviction. It helps to have a visual. If you picture the antebellum South in a split screen with the Pillsbury doughboy, you should get it. It should come out just right, like “EL-Lee Maaaaay. EL-Lee Maaaaay wOnt a Bis-kit?” That’s the proper pronunciation. Or close to it.

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14 thoughts on “What’s In Her Name?

  1. Sharps! Love it. This pic of her cracks me. Your story had me going all around; I was definitely intrigued. She's such a little cutie tooter. Our fetus says hi and hopes Eliot is keeping a journal of her happenings ex-vacuo utero to share. Jalan

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