It’s no secret I love names, which is why my children have squillions of them, and why I’ll pester the life out of any pregnant woman I encounter. Before we named each of our children, we spent a long time thinking of every possible permutation, shortening, misspelling.
But I did not think of Eliner.
To me, Eleanor is a regal three syllables, old-fashioned but not stuffy. Elinor, as we almost spelled it, is nearly as good, calling to mind, as it does, Elinor Dashwood. I knew there were two ways to spell it, but I didn’t know until she was named that there were two ways to pronounce it.
To my surprise, I keep coming across Southerners, from here in Virginia, from North Carolina and Tennessee, who pronounce it El-lih-ner. And I hate it!
When I was in high school, there was a boy called Greg whose mother always corrected us his name was Gregory. How did she not see that one coming? Now I sympathize. I knew my Thomas Joseph might someday go by Tommy, or worse, TJ. (Shudder.) But I thought I had worked through all the Eleanor variations and approved of each: Ella and Ellie and Nora, three dear girls.
J reminds me that we love the Southern accents of the people we love — how I longed for the cadence of the South Georgians around me in college — and if this one unlovely pronunciation is the only aberration, so be it. I try to think of that, and it helps, some, but mostly I just remember again the inherent mystery of naming another, unknown human being. Will this scrawny newborn with wide, inscrutable eyes be a fun-loving teenager in furry boots called Ella? Will this wild-haired toddler, chattering about babies and trucks, someday be a compassionate school teacher who goes by her middle name, or the stern legislator Eleanor?
We don’t know, can’t know. So we take our best shot, choose a name solemnly or lightly, and watch the rest unfold.