“Mally!” He said, excitedly, “It’s a girl!” My husband broke the news to me after delivering our baby himself as the doctor stood a step away, coaching him on what to do. I couldn’t believe it; a second girl!
Almost exactly 19 months earlier, I had given birth to our oldest daughter. We knew her name before we had seen her face. During the second pregnancy, however, we were tired and didn’t know the sex of the baby so we kept telling ourselves we’ll figure out the name when we see him or her. On a sunny morning in mid-November, we suddenly had to figure it out.
Technically, the hospital named our kid before we did; she was “Baby A” for the first 30+ hours of her life. We studied the list of girl names we had been adding to for the past several months but every option suddenly seemed terrible and wrong. Although we could have left the hospital without legally naming our baby, it wasn’t a recommended practice. Feeling the pressure to land on a name so we could go home, I half-heartedly agreed on a family name we’d had on our list, praying it would grow on me.
When our daughter was 4 days old, I finally broke down to my husband, telling him the words I’d been afraid to say out loud: I don’t think that’s her name. We decided not to rule out changing her name, but to allow ourselves the space to process, time to listen, and the courage to make a change, if needed.
We formally announced our daughter’s name change just after she turned 3 months old. Simply put, we didn’t get it right the first time and I knew I’d regret it, if we knew we didn’t get it right but didn’t do anything about it. She’s 7 months old now and I can’t imagine that her former name ever would have fit her. She is just so totally an Annie.
Changing your child’s name is both awkward and complicated—I wouldn’t recommend it. People always tell me that she’ll have a great story to tell about her name, and I hope she agrees, but what I really want my kids to see is that it’s okay to admit it when you didn’t get something right the first time. Maybe it’s after 3 months or maybe it’s after 30 years, but it is honorable, and sometimes difficult, move to recognize and mobilize when you’ve missed the mark.
I was nearly 30 years old when I learned that being “colorblind” to different races wasn’t a badge of honor. Growing up in a homogenous suburb of Chicago, I was told that being blind to the color of someone’s skin—effectively dismissing all of the stories and culture that go along with that—was right and polite. If only it were just awkward and complicated to make an about face from that stance. If only I hadn’t totally missed the full personhood of my Black friends and colleagues before realizing I was off course. If only it just took a nicely worded social media post and some government paperwork to set things straight.
My journey of learning about my privilege, racial identity, systemic racism, and social justice is just that—a journey.
It’d be more comfortable and less awkward if it were a clear and straight line, A to B, but it’s not that easy. Mine is, and will continue to be, winding and full of those moments where I have to give voice to the words I’m afraid to speak aloud: I’m wrong. Then, taking the action after the words, to include processing, listening, and being courageous enough to change.
Although my husband and I felt brave enough to go against the grain and change our daughter’s name, what people don’t see are all of the times I cower at admitting I was wrong. I’d like to guarantee that the world knows my intentions are good, but well-intentioned isn’t the same as anti-racist. My privilege will drown out my intentions any day, unless I am actively changing something.
My hope is that the story of Annie’s name change turns out to be not much of a story to our girls. I’d like it to be another example in a long line they have about their parents admitting they were wrong and changing direction. That’s much easier to write that than it is to live; God, for the sake of us all, give me courage for the winding journey.
Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess while eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and their two daughters. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.