Sunday, June 20, 2010

What's in a Baby Name?

Mark and I didn't really start talking about what to name the babies until after we found out the sexes. So unfortunately I can't entertain you with the names we would have chosen for boy/boy and girl/girl twins. But before we knew the sexes I'd ask Mark what names he'd like, say, when we were driving, and he would name things he saw like he was Keyser Soze. "How about Cutlass Ciera?"

Hopefully our babies will have fewer bullet holes than this Cutlass Ciera.

When I was 8 years old I used to check out baby name books from the library. Over the years my favorite girl names (I wasn't as into boy names) were (don't judge) Vanessa (I think because of The Cosby Show), Valentina, Melissa, and Natasha (I used to like the ridiculous spelling Natassja). I'm not even including when I was 5 and named my goldfish my favorite name, Patty. Patty didn't have a very long life and I went on to have 6 more Pattys before my parents gave up on the fish tank. (Thankfully they took - at least marginally - better care of my brother and me. Some would say anyway. Hi, Mom.)

Given my early obsession with names, to my surprise it wasn't me who picked out the eventual names - it was Mark! He suggested we name one of the babies after our stuffed elephant, Julian. The elephant is named after the place where I bought it, the pretty gold rush mountain town of Julian east of San Diego. Growing up we'd always drive there the day after Thanksgiving for apple pie, and if we were lucky, snow. We weren't fond of the name Julian but really liked Julia. Mark suggested James to go along with Julia. (I also suggested Juliet and Juliana - not that I necessarily liked them more - but Mark nixed those). I was more reluctant about James because I still liked my top male name (which I will get to) and I worried that James would be called Jim (or as my dad suggested, Jimbo). But I agreed that James sounded best with Julia and I've always liked the name James. As it turns out James and Julia are tied for 28th on the 2009 list of boy/girl twin names. (Apparently there were 8 pairs of James/Julia twins born last year in the U.S.) Interestingly there's a sign on the highway near us for Julian and St. James Streets.

We were surprised to run into Julian in the airport in Bangkok.

This is very tangential but we also saw this elephant ATM in Bangkok.

Mark in the town of Julian

We want to take the twins to Julian's Candy Mine as soon as they're old enough.

Is this how Mark subconsciously came up with the names?

While pregnant I told the moms not to worry when it came to names, that we'd pick something classic and not embarrassing for them when it came time to tell their friends. We kept the names secret from our families (though once I did tell my mom our top three girl names), but released a poll to Mark's Google co-workers and to our friends. They could vote on:

James & Julia (received 9 votes)
Alexander & Natasha (5 votes)
Benjamin & Sophia (7 votes)

I've always been really into all things Russian and Mark's last name sounds Russian so I thought it would be nice to have Russian first names. Unfortunately Mark's first cousin (another Pilloff) is named Alexander. Had we gone with Alexander and Natasha, I would have wanted them informally known as Alex and Sasha. (Sasha is technically a shortened form of Alexander but I liked it as a shortened form of Natasha.) If we had two girls I would have been interested in the Russian names Katia or Kira to go along with Natasha.(In fact after the twins were born my parents were surprised because they thought I would go with Natasha, Katia, or something else Russian, even before I revealed our top three girl names to them.)

"We prefer to call the twins, "Moose and Squirrel."

For several years Benjamin was at the top of my list for boys' names. Once I thought it might be nice to combine it with a family surname on my side like Harrison. Then I realized the baby would be named Benjamin Harrison Pilloff, an homage to a mediocre president. It also reminds me of Nicolas Cage's character, Benjamin Franklin Gates, in National Treasure. Sophia I simply thought was a beautiful name. I called the twins Ben and Sophie in my head during the pregnancy, and I thought the names were sweet and timeless. Well, mostly timeless. I didn't like that Sophia was #7 on 2008's list of American girls' names (#4 in 2009). (Incidentally in 2009, Julia was #50 and James was #18. It's a fun website. Try it out!)

Benjamin Harrison Pilloff?

The map's on the back of the Declaration of Independence!

Incidentally my first choice for a boy's name would have been William - and I love the shortened form, Will. Unfortunately Will Pilloff is not so good.

Benjamin was an easy choice as a middle name, since it was our runner up boy's first name and it was Mark's grandfather's name. Mark championed Elizabeth (everything Mark life!) for Julia's middle name, and while it, too, was on my short list as a middle name for Julia, I originally preferred Catherine and also liked Victoria (but didn't like that it ended with an "a" like Julia). Mark wasn't a fan of Catherine, partly because it was too close to my own name (a concern of mine as well), so we went with Elizabeth. Choosing Elizabeth was also a way to honor Mark's grandmother (we called her Bube) whose first name was Luba, a derivation of Libba/Libby/Elizabeth. It's interesting to note that my parents really strongly considered naming my brother and me Benjamin and Elizabeth.

The day the twins were born we told everyone but my parents the names. Since my parents were arriving the following day I wanted to tell them in person to surprise them and to gauge their reactions. While on the phone with my mother the day of their birth I accidentally referred to our girl as Julia. I tried to play it off like I meant to do it (oops), but I didn't fool her.


  1. what do you mean "unfortunately Mark's cousin is named Alexander"??

  2. more like: unfortunately my cousin married a shiksa with terrible taste in baby names