Picking out names for the children we don’t have

Annie Mae when we adopted her six years ago

As I was walking at the beach with my dog the other day and talking to her, as I often do, I called her by her full name, Annie Mae Lick. Suddenly I realized that could have been the name of my human daughter. Annie Lick. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It would honor my Portuguese grandmother and great-grandmother, both named Anna Souza. Lots of people called my grandmother “Annie.”

To be honest, I named my dog after a red-haired TV character. Later, I remembered that that was Grandma’s name.
When I pictured my own daughter with that name, I wanted her so bad. She would be grown up now, and I would love her with all my heart. Maybe, like my beautiful niece, she’d look just like my mom, and we could talk and share our lives.
Names. One of the profound things about having a child is naming the baby, giving him or her the identity they’ll carry all their lives. In many religions, the name is part of the baptism or christening ceremony. It matters. Sure, they might shorten or change their names later—my birth certificate says Susan Gail Fagalde—but to you they will always be that person you named. That name will contain their history, their heritage and the love with which it was given.
I named my dolls when I was a kid. I named my first car (Bertha Bug). I named my pets. These days, lots of people give human names to their cats, dogs, monkeys and gerbils. Instead of Spot, Blackie or Rover, they’re Molly, Annie, Harry or George. Why do we do that? Do we see our pets as more human than animal? Do we want to pretend they’re our children? Or do we just have no other use for the names?
As a writer of fiction, I get to make up names for my characters. It’s fun and a little daunting. The name needs to fit the character, be easy to pronounce and distinguish that character from all of the others. What if Scarlett O’Hara had been Judy Smith? Or if Ashley Wilkes had been Jake McFee? Not the same. I also have to be careful about using real people’s names. I once had to change the name of my bad guy because there was a real person with that name who might want to sue me. In my novel Azorean Dreams, my main character’s name is Chelsea Faust. To my amazement, several real Chelsea Fausts have written to me. Luckily, they were flattered.
My writing gives me a place to name people, but I will never get to hug those people, never get to cook for them or help them with their homework. They’ll never come looking for me, calling, “Mom!” They’re just words on a page.
Annie Lick. What a great name.
How about you? Do you have names you wish you could give to your children? Or your dogs?

11 thoughts on “Picking out names for the children we don’t have

  1. I always thought if I have a girl, I would name her Heather (the most beautiful name in the world to me, and every nice girl I knew was named Heather). If I had a boy, I would name him James. I was pregnant once, and my husband didn't like James, so we agreed on Oskar. That was my one and only pregnancy and resulted in no children, and those names are still a source of pain to me. I like to give my pets names that are not human. My most recent pets were rabbits named Fatty and Beans. I think a great dog name is Pickles, especially for a bulldog.


  2. Sometimes when I'm asked if I have kids I'm almost tempted to say I have a son named Frankie who's 9, but he's my dog. It would be fun to pretend to be normal for just a little bit, but I realize that's pretty crazy and I’d have to keep the lie straight. So, not worth it. I answer honestly despite how it hurts. The kids’ names were supposed to be Justin or Thomas (after my father) for a boy and Sam (Samantha) or Jordan for a girl. I don't think I'll ever use them for a pet though.


  3. My stepdaughter-in-law is pregnant again. I never know how news of pregnancy will hit me. I love my grandson named Gabe. I sometimes feel like part of the family; other times the grief is so unbearable I pull away. In an attempt to grieve not having my own children I wrote poems to the two children I had thought I would have. I named them Christopher and Olivia. In the poems, I said hello and goodbye quickly. Naming them was so intense for me. I also did an egg donation many years ago, and there is a child. I know she looks like me ( the doctor looked at the picture in front of me but never showed me, just said she looked just like me). I don't know her name. I wonder sometimes if I will ever meet her and know her name and what she is like.


  4. Love thinking about names! I have a boy name picked out in particular. Whenever I see it pop up somewhere I get a little jolt. Sometimes it's sad, but sometimes it's comforting…like a sign that this little guy is out there somewhere, just waiting for our time to be right…


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