I started thinking about what I would name my children when I was 9 years old. I have no idea if that is typical, or if I was just a strange kid, but I remember reading books and jotting down names I liked in the margins of the story. For a while, I was planning to have four girls and name them Kristy, Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne. My future children soon morphed into blonde twins named Jessica and Elizabeth. Then in high school, I thought maybe I would name them Meg and Jo, or perhaps Antonia. So, when the time finally arrived, I thought I was ready. I thought that paging through a book of baby names, searching for the one that captured the essence of our child would be fun. After all, I had been taking notes for YEARS! There were a few things though, that I had failed to consider:
ONE: Your child is still in utero, so capturing any kind of personality in your name choice is a crap shoot. Can you tell something about a child’s personality by the way your pregnancy goes? A little, maybe, yes. But sometimes, unless you can find a name that means, “Kicks the bejeezus out of my bladder when I’m trying to sleep,” you may be out of luck.
TWO: I have a partner to consider. This was a startling revelation in more way than one. First, because there is a last name to deal with. For us, this meant that Mason was out as a first name (disappointingly, Ticonderoga was also a no-go). And personally, I am adverse to alliterative names, so anything beginning with a “D” was off the list. And then there was the issue of this other opinion I had to listen to…sheesh. You mean Rob and I actually have to agree? This can be bad news when the girl that always wore the brown and orange polka-dot shirt AND threw up on your husband in third grade happens to share the name that you love most.
THREE: There is a serious weight to the naming decision that can be crazy-making. I mean, you are making a choice for your child that could shape the trajectory of their life. Inadvertently choose a name that a gazillion other people choose, and saddle your child with the dreaded last initial throughout elementary school. (I am an Amy born in the 70s, so I can personally relate) OR at the other extreme, give them something so unusual that they are teased, or made to feel self-conscious about it, potentially crushing their already fragile self-esteem, and sending them into a spiral of insecurity and eventually, a LIFE OF CRIME. Okay, maybe not, but you get the picture…sometimes the naming process feels THAT important. And according to this article, it just might be.
For all of these reasons, the naming process for our four kids was NOT as easy as I thought it would be. So I was relieved when, with our second-born, we agreed quickly on the name Lucy. We chose it because of the Lucy in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia. There was just something about it that we both loved, and felt was just right for her. (and who wouldn’t want to be named after “Queen Lucy the Valiant?”) And believe it or not, it fits her perfectly. Score one for me, I finally got my literary baby name.
As you may have already guessed, this month’s picture book recommendation is all about a name. CHRYSANTHEMUM by Kevin Henkes is a story about a young girl with the perfect name. A name that is “precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome.” A name that is everything she is, and a name that she loves. “Chrysanthemum loved the way her name looked when it was written with ink on an envelope. She loved the way it looked when it was written with icing on her birthday cake. And she loved the way it looked when she wrote it herself with her fat orange crayon.” But what happens when Chrysanthemum enters school and realizes that her name is just a teensy bit different from everyone else’s?
Written and Illustrated By: Kevin Henkes
Published By: Greenwillow Books, 1991
Synopsis: She was a perfect baby, and she had a perfect name. Chrysanthemum. When she was old enough to appreciate it, Chrysanthemum loved her name. And then she started school. “I’m named after my grandmother.“ “You’re named after a flower,” said Victoria. Chrysanthemum wilted. Life at school didn’t improve. In fact, it got worse. Then the students were introduced to their music teacher, Mrs. Twinkle. Mrs. Delphinium Twinkle. And suddenly, Chrysanthemum blossomed….
Opening: “The day she was born was the happiest day in her parents’ lives.
“She’s perfect,” said her mother.
“Absolutely,” said her father. And she was. She was absolutely perfect.
“Her name must be everything she is,” said her mother.
“Her name must be absolutely perfect,” said her father. And it was. Chrysanthemum. Her parents named her Chrysanthemum.”
How to use this book with your kids: First, let me gush for just a moment about the fabulous Kevin Henkes. Soooo many of his books are favorites around our house…LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, WEMBERLEY WORRIED, and MY GARDEN, to name a few. He has a way of capturing the heart and emotions of both children and their parents as they face common childhood situations together. I love love love, in CHRYSANTHEMUM, how the illustrations show her father reading books like The Inner Mouse, Vol. 1: Childhood Anxiety, and A Rose by any other Name, Understanding Identity, in the background as Chrysanthemum tells them of her woes at school. I’m always a fan of picture books that have a little nugget here and there just for us parents, and this one definitely does. There are so many potential conversations you could have with your kids after reading this book. You could talk with them about their name…why you chose it, what it means, how they feel about it. You could talk about teasing and the power words have. It could definitely open up a conversation about school and how children treat each other on the playground. Now…in the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that I have read some negative reviews of this book from parents who did not like how Chrysanthemum and her folks chose to handle the teasing situation at school. I say, if that is the case, then use the book to have a conversation with your child about how you WOULD want them to handle it. Ask them what they would do if they were Chrysanthemum.
Watch out for your 9 year olds, though…they might just be scribbling down this book title in the corner of the page, waiting for the right moment to tell their future partner they want to name their baby Chrysanthemum (or perhaps Henkes).