Friday, January 18, 2013

On Her Name

I've gotten questions about Henrietta's name, and I thought I'd officially answer.

Her name is Henrietta Plum Ruddick, and we'll start with the last name, which is indeed Ruddick, not Plum, as some have assumed. I wouldn't have put it past us to give her an entirely original last name--one neither of us share--but the truth is that we're more traditional than we seem. Though I've toyed with going back to my maiden name (and I do publish under it), now that she's here I rather like that we're all Ruddicks, and I doubt I'll ever bother to go back.

On Plum. This is honestly a product of dozens of very lengthy (and fun (bordering on tedious)) conversations between Sam and I while I was pregnant, trying to settle on her name. We'd suggest whatever would pop into our heads, whatever we'd see out the window or put our finger to in a book:

Me: "Stopsign Ruddick. Stop Ruddick. Spot Ruddick. Hester Spot Ruddick."

Sam: "Book Ruddick. Diet Coke Ruddick. Lotion Ruddick."

Me: "Lotion Ruddick does have a nice ring to it, but no."

That sort of thing, though that's not an exact memory.

And once, during one of these conversations, Sam suggested Plum. He suggested it because he was reading a book by a man with the middle name Plumb. And somehow this stuck. Eventually these conversations would narrow, so we were just trying on a handful of first names with a handful of middle names. And sometimes we'd settle on a pair, and we'd get very excited and I'd say, "Tell her! Tell her the name!" And Sam would lean down to my stomach, cupping my pregnant belly on either side, and he'd whisper the name we'd picked.

Of course the next morning we'd be less sure. And the process would start all over again. But Plum stuck.

I don't know what Plum means, exactly. But it makes me think of three things that make me glad: the first is that rich, deep purple, and I like thinking of that color. The second is a plum tree in my grandmother's front yard, which grew fruit that rich, deep color, and had reddish leaves, and I loved that tree. And the last is a sculpture in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral in England that I once saw, because the man looking down at his palms is said to be "plumbing the depths of his soul."

And her first name is after my father's grandmother, Henrietta Calder Earley, a woman I never met, but grew up hearing stories about, and who was very kind to my mother. I've always felt close to her for some reason, and when I was in the hospital getting the cerclage put in, I somehow felt like she was hanging around there, making sure the baby and I were okay. My parents say this is absolutely something she would do, that she loved babies, and loved my dad's children, and would have wanted to help as best she could. I think I knew then that the baby's name would be Henrietta, though I'd mentioned it before then, and we continued to play the name game afterward.

Of course, when she actually arrived, we didn't really feel settled at all. Well, I was settled, but Sam remained unconvinced. And every morning and afternoon for the first few days of our stay, the birth certificate woman would come around and very politely ask if we'd settled on her name, and I'd have to say that no, we hadn't. I would somehow usually be alone when this happened, so we Sam got there I would ask him about it, and Sam would hold the baby, sitting at the foot of my bed, and explain that somehow it didn't feel right to name her, that it felt presumptuous somehow. I knew what he meant. It did suddenly seem an enormous job to give her the name she'd carry for the rest of her life. Even now, while I feel sure we gave her the right name intellectually, I'm still somehow more comfortable thinking of and calling her Baby. Sometimes I look at her and think, "This is Henrietta. Henrietta." And I can hardly believe it.

Slowly, the name becomes stickier, and becomes more and more her. Soon she'll be trying to say it herself, and it will be an absolute mouthful. I plan on letting her decide how she might shorten it, though I'm collecting options: Hetty, Retta, Etta (my favorite, I think), Rie, Hen, Henny, HP, and (Sam's favorite, for now) Hank.


7 comments:

Harmony said...

I told you that was the name of my childhood piano teacher. She went by Hank.
Thanks for the story. I had been wondering too.

Elise said...

I love Etta too. And having just been through this name game, you describe it beautifully. And I'm glad to not be the only one who feels such uncertainty and presumptuousness

Deja said...

Harm, I love that your piano teacher went by Hank. It's growing on me ...

Elise, I am very excited to hear the name you settled on. I adore you.

Amara said...

Minus the statue, those are the same associations I have with the word/name Plum. Wonderful. I knew her as you know, and she was a wonderful Gramma. My memories of being with her, in her house, are the stuff of idyllic stories. I always felt perfectly safe and loved with her and it was really hard for me when she died. I bet giving that name to your baby helps with an assignment on the other side. That's how I'd work it anyway. What a great guardian she will have if so!

belann said...

So glad Amara remembers her. She absolutely adored your older sisters. She didn't really get to know the boys or you, but I am totally convinced that she would be involved with you and what is happening here. That is the way she was. Little Henrietta has a wonderful namesake.

SJ said...

Deja,
It's hard for me to get my mind around the fact that my tiny, thumb-sucking, ward family friend now has her own thumb sucking little one! You continue to be just lovely. Naming is tricky business. I remember my mom trying out several names on my baby brother...even after leaving the hospital. When we said "Seth," he smiled, so that was it. I actually went back to the hospital the day after I was discharged to change my 3rd son's name...

Unknown said...

I started out the same way after Milo came. I still to this day call him baby, it sort of became his nickname.