We chose Iris’s name a few days before she was born. It rose to the top of a pile of names that we liked but that each had a fatal flaw: Edith or Alice (too plain, maybe, and without much meaning for us), Harriet (too much like my real name), Freya (A loved it, but it made me think frazzled), Siri (a nickname for Sigrid, it turns out, and it means butt in Japanese), Esther (a bit too old lady, we worried).
And Berit, the most gorgeous reject of all. It means splendid, magnificent. It’s Scandinavian, but related to the Irish Bridget, the goddess of fire, poetry and wisdom. But it’s too odd, we thought. “Her name is Berit,” we’d say, and people, we predicted, would answer, “What?” Our last name is unusual, hard to spell, and easy to mistake for a female first name, and we didn’t want to set our girl up for a lifetime of “What?”, a lifetime of spelling it out.
Iris, we loved. Love. I love that it is strong, short. Feminine without being too delicate. I think goddess and rainbow far more than flower.
The problem with it, we knew (and we were drawn to it strongly enough to choose it in spite of this) is that it’s a lot like Ingrid. It looks like we chose it to match. We didn’t. But people are either charmed by the cute matchiness or they have trouble telling them apart. “Oh, the sisters with the I names,” people say. “Which is which, again?”
This bothers me more than I thought it would. Ingrid and Iris feel different to me—ok, similar in sound, but almost opposite in tone and texture. It irritates me that people think of them as alike. I don’t want anyone to think of my daughters as interchangeable. They are not.
And also this baby girl, this red-headed, bright-eyed, intrepid little gusto-filled rocking chair surfer of a girl, seems way more Berit than Iris to me.
I’ve felt it since she was born. Curled on the hospital bed peering into her bassinet in the middle of our first groggy night together, I kept thinking of her as Berit and having to correct myself. That went on for weeks.
And then for months, in my broken new mom sleep, I dreamed of being pregnant again, which I didn’t and don’t want. My main feeling in the dream, though, was relief: We could call this one Berit.
A agrees: she seems like a Berit. She seems like Iris, too, he points out, because we call her that over and over and it’s grown to fit her, sort of. He is less likely, even, than I to rock the boat or go back on something so significant. But we’ve both slipped, in the past couple of months, into calling her Berit or Bear. Ingrid has picked it up, too, and uses Berit interchangeably with darling, sweetie, and Gyris.
At a barbecue this week, someone heard me call her Bear and asked where that came from. “Um. Um um,” I said. “Um, well, partly it comes from, you know, from her just looking like a little bear. And, um, it’s also short for…” And then, mercifully, I needed to go and rescue the little Bear from the stairwell and the conversation didn’t continue. What could I have said? It’s short for the name we didn’t give her but should have. The name that seems like hers even though it’s not.
I’ve thought a lot—and A and I have talked—about officially changing her name. About going through whatever paperwork that entails, and sending friends and family an email with the subject line, “The Baby Formerly Known as Iris.” We’re reaching the end of the time when that kind of change would be unproblematic for her little self.
For now, we are going on with the multiple nicknames. Are we nuts? Will we ruin her? I don’t think we will officially change her name. But I can see a future where we start to use Berit more than Iris, at least within our family, and maybe outside it, too. Whatever we do, I have a feeling Berit will follow Iris through her life like a bright little shadow.