February 25, 2007

What's in a Name?

Naomi and I began a protracted consultation on baby names many months before Elena was born. I soon realized that I should have paid more attention to bargaining tactics when I was taking organizational behavior classes in college, because my wife is a determined – but reasonable —negotiator. Midway through the process we both chose three names for a baby boy or a baby girl. As we neared Naomi's due date, on Christmas Eve we sat down at one of our favorite cafés and, while enjoying some very nice Blue Mountain coffee and dessert, hammered out the "agreement in principle." In fact, we only clinched a deal for a girl's name; if we'd had a boy, we might still be negotiating! It was actually quite a fun experience to sound out my wife's thoughts on the meaning of names and the trends these days for kids' names in Japan.

Choosing our baby's name.
More and more Japanese people have been tying the knot with foreigners in recent years in so-called international marriages. There has been a parallel growth in the number of websites and books with lists of kids' names that seem natural both in Japan and in other countries. Some bicultural couples opt to go "fully foreigner" while others choose traditional Japanese names for their kids. Like many people, we decided we'd like to have the best of both cultures. I think we managed to do this with 'Elena', a name we both really like and we hope represents her character--at least the character she displayed after a week of life! Some of the variables involved in the selection of her name were: sound, our hopes and dreams for the baby, and the meaning of the kanji characters we chose for her name in Japanese (there are lots to choose from for each syllable). I have also put up her ‘meimei’ naming scroll because I like the vivid colors and the calligraphy. I test marketed her first name among some acquaintances to see their reaction before we made it official, and it was very positive. The kanji characters for Elena, E-re-na [恵礼奈], have distinct meanings. 'E' means a blessing, 'rei' is taken to mean courtesy/appreciation and 'na' comes from the first character of the city of Nara, which was Japan's first capital in ancient times and now venerated as one of its cultural gems.

As for Margaret, I pulled that one out of the air: it just sounded right to me. We used a methodical process for her first name and, as it turned out, a very whimsical way of discovering her middle name. Sometimes I feel it is right to trust my instincts, and Naomi liked it as well.

Naomi Still at her Parents' Home
Japanese tradition is such that, if possible, a new mother stays with her own Mom for the first month or two after giving birth because of the support and helping hand a grandma can provide when needed. It also means the new dad is left alone at home to work and live by himself for awhile. This brings about mixed blessings. For me, the apartment is quiet and cold when I get home after work, but I can do whatever I want...hence this blog. On weekends, I run errands, prep the house for their return and then go and visit my wife and baby. I managed to convince Naomi to leave Elena for a few hours and go on a "date" with me to a restaurant in late January; it was her first time after the birth to venture outside her folks' place for reasons other than just buying diapers and such. The weather has been quite warm this year and we've had sunny weekends, which is a great morale booster for us. The good news is that after six weeks with her parents, Naomi and Elena are finally coming home to our apartment today. Now the fun really begins.

Last words: I hope this post explains why there aren't many shots of all three of us together yet. Due to the hue and cry from the rabid fans of this blog, I will plunk one 'happy new dad' shot here, even though it's from early January. And, yes, soon there will be more of the three of us.



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