Names and Taking Up Space

Several years ago, I was in grad school and working two jobs, and at one there was a Kate Bowers and the other a Katherine Dower-Something. It was then I started to use Katherine Grimm Bowers professionally, and when I found myself listed under “Grimm Bowers” and not “Bowers” at a conference, I thought, hey, I like the sound of that.

I was 22 when I got married and had no compelling reason not to change my name, but it’s never sat all that well with me, even nine years in, especially when I get the whole “Mrs John Bowers” treatment. (Um, what? Have I been subsumed?)

And yet I still feel a little persnickety using both. I don’t actually care much if you use the Grimm in addressing me, but I still feel kind of bossy to work it in there. A friend who uses her first and middle name (without a hyphen) says she feels the same way sometimes.

But seriously, how is this high maintenance? A name is too important to cater to someone else’s convenience. My son is pretty uniformly called Pippin but his full name is Thomas Joseph Peregrine. This confuses people, and means I have to make notes on paperwork sometimes. But so what? He gets to be called a name he likes and that suits him, and later on he’ll have a more dignified name, one that honors a beloved uncle, if he decides he wants it.

It’s just something I’ve been thinking about as we settle on a name for this babe. I don’t want to burden her with something ungainly that she has to explain to everyone she meets, but neither do I want to opt for bland and palatable over meaningful. Names grow, and I want to give her space to make her name her own.

Introducing…Buttercup Urglegrew Bowers!

Should crop out mess, can’t be bothered.


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.

Queenly, right?