For six months after their birth, I referred to Mateo and Harper by names other than their own.

Though we knew their names within days of confirming that I would soon give birth to a boy and a girl, in late pregnancy, we called them Eagle and Birdie, upon their birth, Bruiser and Birdie, and later, Tato and Carpet. It wasn’t until their six month birthday that I revealed their actual names on this blog.

In her early days, Harper was also Itty Bitty, Baby Girl, and Squeaker. In addition to Harper, we also call her Cita, Harpercita, Charlie, and Idgy. Mateo was Mr. Big due to his 7lb 2 oz frame (and that was two weeks early!). He also still goes by Tato Bear, Tato, Tater Tot, Mater, BoBo, Bozie, Bozie Bear, Shizz, and BoShizzle. They both go by Huevitos (“little eggs” in Spanish).

In June 2009, I received an email from a man who was researching the history of his children’s names. Apparently he’d seen a tweet from George Stephanopoulos that he had a daughter named Harper and the former drummer of Nirvana had a daughter named Harper, too. Political pundit, musical genius, YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING, DON’T YOU? Because next thing you know he ran into my blog.

Not only is his daughter’s name Harper, but his son’s name is Mateo, too. For them, he tells me, Mateo exploded as a boy’s name and he and his wife agreed on it right away. As for Harper, it was a name his wife pushed for and he only got on board towards the end of her pregnancy.

Over the course of a couple emails, he wrote that he had been searching for a post about how we chose the names we did and never found one. That would be because until today there wasn’t one.

Was it a literary inspiration? No. To honor the name of a deceased relative? No. Our basic criteria were for at least one of their names to be Spanishy, and for both to be fun.

Our story goes like this: we kept a steno note pad sheet on the bathroom counter prior to and during pregnancy where we would write names under consideration. It was a place we could write a name down for the other to see later, like those chess games that get left on the table for some passer by to make the next move.

Over the months, we wrote and mulled. How did it flow off the pen? What was the cadence of the syllables? How would it look at the top of the leaderboard? Could their entire name be said in one breath, what with THE SIXTEEN LETTER HYPHENATED LAST NAME?

Gniman

HARPER GRACE – contrary to initial inquiries, no, we did not name her for Harper Lee. Harper was simply a fun name that elicited spunk and fire and fun and she sure is that. Grace to balance the crescendo of what we imagined her personality would be. And because she was always so still in the womb.

MATEO FINN – I wanted at least one of the kids to have a Spanish name because hello? Harper Grace doesn’t fall under that category. We were looking up names and Jennifer came across Mateo and it also meant “child of God” (though don’t they ALL mean that at some point?) Finn because we wanted to namesake a friend through whom we met, though the three letters in her last name are Fen.

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As for the runners-up, here are thoughts behind them:

SCOUT – yes, after Scout Finch from Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a favorite book of my 5th grade year and I remember thinking Scout could have been my friend.
CHARLIE GRACE – loved Charlie. Nice ring to it. She totally could have been a Charlie. And we still call her that sometimes.
LOURDES – wanted a Spanish name, but it just didn’t ring well. And looking at her now, it wouldn’t have fit.
BAILYN ISABELLA – I once knew an anesthesiologist named Baylen. Jennifer’s middle name is Lyn. Isabella is super cute and spanishy, but between the two of us, we have three cousins with the name Isabella. Plus, a month after we put it on our list, Jennifer’s youngest brother and his wife named their newborn Bailey.
BETTE OPHELIA – totally old school, right? Betty is Jennifer’s maternal grandmother’s name. She is the sweetest thing ever. Ofelia was my maternal grandmother’s name. At one point, when we were told we might be having two girls, the firstborn would have been named Bette (pronounced just “bet”) Ophelia. Ophelia is also the name of my 5 year old alter-ego. She can often be found wearing red rain boots and a ponytail kicking around pecans and climbing trees, something I imagine my grandmother did when she was a child. Harper most definitely could have been a Bette.
REGAN ISABELLA – this was just a no.
OLIVIA – loved this name, but I have a cousin who’s daughter is named Olivia and my sister’s sister-in-law’s daughter is named Olivia and so that was that.
KYLIE – fleeting thought. Not sure what I was thinking there.
ELLA – it’s just so wonderfully southern, but didn’t fit well in the end.
NOLA – Jennifer really liked Lola but I couldn’t help but think of the references to the controversial novel, Lolita. Since we met in New Orleans, and New Orleans, Louisiana is often abbreviated “NOLA”, this was a compromise. It’s lovely to me, it’s hard to outdo “Harper”.

RIO – yeah, this got shot down right away. But it’s spanish for “river” and I must have been having a mid-80s Stand By Me moment. I’m blaming the hormones.
WALKER RHYS – had we had two boys, this would have been the other boy’s name. It’s a strong name and I still love it. But it’s also just. so. white.
JUDE OLIVIER – Jude because Jennifer is a Beatles junkie. Olivier because the actor Olivier Martinez wears his first name very, very well.
Miles, Ethan, Ryan, Dylan, Aiden, Isaac – the kind of names that we put on paper only to find they tasted a bit more like rice cakes mulled around in the mouth once put together with possible middle names and then the curtain call of their last name.
ELIJAH – love the name, love the biblical reference. If our boy was to have been 50/50 African American/Mississippian, it might have worked, but with any of the middle names we were considering as pairs, it just didn’t sound right for a 50/50 Hispanic/Caucasian.
ANDREW – it was a thought. And then it wasn’t.
BENNETT – a great strong name, we thought. Paired with Finn/Fenn, there was just too much “ih/eh” in the name, though.

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Until I received the email from Jeff, that sheet of paper remained folded and wrinkled, tattered and damp underneath my make-up bag next to the toothbrush holder. It was something I noticed every day, now having our children on the outside, walking among us.

We maintain correspondence and he wrote

“…I had the idea to comment on the site under then pen name ‘Mateo and Harper’s Dad,’ but I’m trying to break the habit of telling jokes that are only amusing to me, so I abstained.”

I, for one, thought it was boldly hilarious and decided right then and there he was a keeper. I especially think he’s cool because he writes posts in English and French, and here I won’t even spellcheck or use proper grammar.

Thanks for the inspiration to write this post, Jeff. For the results of his study on the popularity of the names Mateo and Harper in France and the US, click here.

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