The name Henry won because I loved it even after it had been through a war.
1. I didn’t pick it. Steve and I came to the relationship years ago with some dream names for our babies. Steve’s boy name was Henry. I like to be the creative one (I’m whining as I say this). I wanted a name that came from somewhere in the ether that I pulled into being, not a name that someone else suggested.
2. I had no idea until very recently that Henry and Hank were related names. But I knew that Steve had a Grandpa Hank — or more specifically a step-grandpa Hank. (Steve’s dream baby girl name is his grandmother’s name. And he’s pushing already, if we have another boy, for him to have the name of his father. That seems a little much, though he insists these names aren’t after the people, he just likes the names). What I know of Grandpa Hank is he was an abusive alcoholic who pretty much abandoned his children and who liked to pee just about anywhere. Not a positive namesake. And the thought that anyone, especially Steve’s stepfather, would think that I chose the name Henry because of that alcoholic man, that would be unbelievably inaccurate. It took me the full nine months to come to terms with the relationship between the name Henry and the infamous step-grandfather. And each time I said the name Henry as a possible baby name and someone said Hank my heart would sink. Please no one say Hank.
3. Because, familial connotation aside, I don’t like the name Hank. It sounds like something you use to blow your nose. It sounds like a swear word. Steve says that males may like the name more than females — it has a swift sharpness and toughness about it, he says, but I don’t hear it. In a way our compromise is that he got his dream boy name as long as he insists along with me that the name Hank is not attached to our boy.
4. The name Henry is getting more popular. It’s in the top 75 names this year. I was hoping for a more unusual name. But I also wanted a name that could blend into a poem, that didn’t poke out as too unusual and change the fabric of the poem. And I’d never known a Henry. But a couple of days before Henry was born, a friend wrote to say that her friend just gave birth to a boy that they named Henry. It seemed like the name was everywhere.
5. The name means nothing poetic. It means something like ‘Ruler of the house,’ which I also hope won’t be true in our house. Though my name means ‘Owner of the land,’ so I shouldn’t talk.
6. Steve and I went to the elaborate Catholic wedding of his cousin and his cousin’s wife a few years ago, and a couple of days before I went into labor, his cousin’s wife wrote me to say that her husband left her and their son Henry when he was six weeks old. Just to let me know, because I sent her a card with both of their names on it. And their son Henry was born on January 6, a year exactly before ours. That name became doubly cursed and compromised. At that point, I seriously thought that that name was out.
We had our shortlist of names that we took with us to the hospital. Henry was on the list, as was a name that I thought might fit a boy who — I am generalizing here — seemed sensitive, and a name that fit a boy who seemed to blend into me, and a name that was more sharp yet sort of effeminate. Four names to choose from. I wanted to see this boy to know. And Henry was born and he came out so strong yet also careful. The name Henry feels like that to me — it has a gracefulness to it, I like how my mouth moves through it, the H sound, the delicateness it takes to say the N right next to the R, and the diminutive quality of the E sound at the end. And we in this house, we love our underdog stories. So the name that came from behind and that was hammered from all sides, it became the name that best fit the energy of the new boy. It really fits him; I haven’t looked back.