When I was pregnant with my second child, talking about it with my first was of course a pleasure and a navigation—of her feelings, and of explaining (as little as possible) how a baby came to be inside my body (what the hell?). Lena was three and decided she liked the idea of a sibling. One day in a pizza place she announced, “I would like a sister.” Scott and I were careful to explain that she might get one, but that it was possible she might get a brother instead. She looked unconvinced. She knew we did everything we could to give her what she wanted; why should this be any different?
As it turned out, she was to have a sister. I had an ultrasound and decided to find out the sex of the child. (We had not wanted to know when I was pregnant the first time, but now we wanted to prepare Lena.) We asked her for ideas about names.
“You should name her Lena.”
“But your name is Lena.”
“I know. You should name her Lena.”
I remembered that she had a habit of naming her dolls and stuffed animals Lena. Our house was full of Lenas. Occasionally she used other names, particularly if the toy came prenamed, like the Giddyup Girl she was so enamored with one Christmas. Or if the toy was clearly male. But most of her toys were girls, and Lenas.
She did accept our explanation that one didn’t usually use the same name for more than one child, though she never backed down from her assertion that Lena would be a great name for her new sister. I contemplated this George Foreman-like existence. The drawbacks were obvious—calling a name and having to add some additional descriptive word: “Lena number 1! Lena number 2!” Filling out forms (an aspect of parenthood I had not fully appreciated as quite as central as it became). Explaining to others, and being compared to George Foreman. This wasn’t for me. Also, Lena is named after my best friend, so we were already dealing with two Lenas, Big Lena and Little Lena. A third would really complicate things.
What if I had gone fully George Foreman and named my two girls Alice? Alice Knox 1 (me), Alice Knox 2 and Alice Knox 3? I imagine how different our lives would be if I had taken this rash but fascinating step. Lena/Alice 2 would be differentiated by her darker hair. Eliza/Alice 3 would always be Little Alice, and perhaps because she is blonde like me she would have seemed more authentically Aliceish. My daughters do look like me, and each other, but I cannot imagine actually doing this, forcing my identity onto them through my name, and forcing my identity onto the world via my children.
In fact, I delight in their separateness from me, and I always have. The first hour of her life, Lena kicked and protested, and I admired her assertion of herself. She is more like me in temperament than Eliza, and at times I feel I’m too wounded by her disappointments, because they remind me of my own young hurts (disappointment at the results of high school auditions, boy worries). Eliza looks more like me, but I identify with her even less. Her outgoing, social personality when she was younger (reigned in a bit now that she is a teenager), her exquisite work ethic—not like me. All her teachers love her—not like me. This is all good.
Alice, Lena, Eliza. I have taken their last name (and their father’s) to make the four of us a unit. Our first names tell the world we are separate.