Unusual but not weird.
This was my standard for determining whether a potential baby name made the cut (aka: the iPhone note created years before I met my husband).
If it was on the Social Security Administration top 1000 list in the last 10 years, it was out. If it was on the Social Security Administration top 1000 list in the 1920’s, it was probably in.
Before you question my methods, you must understand my madness. My maiden name was Ashley Anderson. As you can probably guess, I was born in the 80’s. More than once, I was one of four Ashley’s in my class. And heaven forbid, the teacher used the word ‘actually’ lest we all turn around at once. While I was attending the University of Arkansas, there was another Ashley Anderson enrolled in the Walton College of Business. We even had the same middle initial. I got dozens of her emails, and we apparently frequented all the same places (I had to give the tanning salon my birthday so they knew which account to charge. Also, why did I go to the tanning salon?!?!).
So needless to say, my child was destined to have an uncommon name.
I went through a phase in high school during which I was determined to name my firstborn daughter “Mercury.” Thankfully, I knocked it off the list shortly after I got a B in AP Chemistry. By the time I was in college, my “unusual but not weird” mantra was in full effect. Names were consistently added to my list. I had always been a fan of family names and growing up in Southwest Missouri, on the border of the Midwest and the South, I had a healthy appreciation for double names. My paternal grandmother passed away a few months after I started dating my now husband. At her funeral, I learned that her middle name was Etta. I knew that Jason’s grandmother’s middle name was Mae. And just like that, our first girl’s name was determined, long before she was planned.
Three years later I was pregnant, and I started doubting my choice. The Emma’s and Ella’s and Eva’s had me convinced that Etta would be the next big E name. And when Etta James died during my pregnancy, I mourned her legacy and the likelihood that my soon-to-be daughter’s name would start shooting up the charts. Turns out I was wrong, and I have yet to meet another Etta, much less an Etta Mae. I’ve had a several people stop me to tell me their grandma or great aunt named Etta. But only one has said they’ve ever known an Etta Mae.
Her name is frequently brought up in conversation when we meet new people. I find myself repeating “Yes, it’s a family name. Yes, legally Etta is her first name and Mae is her middle name. It’s spelled Etta not Eda (really?).” I explained to her when she started Kindergarten that her teachers might call her Etta instead of Etta Mae. But they told me that it sounded like it went together so everything in the classroom had it correct when we arrived the first day. Etta Mae is not immune to jokes, something I thought about often when picking a name. It sounds eerily similar to edamame, and she’s been called Ellie Mae (Clampett) a time or two. Often, people misunderstand and call her Anna Mae. She’s too shy at five to speak up and correct them most of the time.
Despite all of those things, I don’t regret our choice. The name fits her perfectly. For now, she has decided that she prefers to be called Chloe, but I hope Etta Mae will grow on her. I remember wanting to be called George, short for Georgia, around her age so I can relate. When she gets older, she can opt to drop the Mae and go by Etta if she prefers. I’ve had a much harder time coming up with names for future children, though I have a few in mind. You can bet that anything we come up with will be unusual, but not weird!