Having my kids so late in the game, I've had plenty of years of saying "she named her baby what?!" to know the pressure was really on. I was playing the name game – to win. I was relieved that, one by one, the names I'd always planned to use were snapped up by friends and, in one memorable case, my sister (who called and asked, "So since you're getting divorced, can I use your baby name?" Good times! Good. Times.).
Now that it was my baby getting named, they all seemed so banal, so common. Mine had to be the most special, amazing name anyone had ever heard – but not weird.
Tall order, huh.
I knew I wanted to name her for my husband's deceased mom, but said mom was named Patty Lou. I was not naming my child Patty Lou. Patty Lou didn't even like being named Patty Lou. But I had a letter: P. A letter that produced a mercifully short list from my 1001 Baby Names Book (I don't do well with too much choice). There were several I liked on that list, and one that I loved: Penelope.
Actually, at the time I got pregnant, I was convinced I'd have twins. Call it a hunch. A very strong, very wrong hunch. And I came up with the kooky plan of naming them Penny and Abe, because Abe's on the penny. I know: Placenta brain before I even had a placenta.
But from the moment I thought of Penelope, I knew it was right. My older stepson, Max, who was 12 at the time, even blurted it out (not knowing it was on my list) as his favorite at dinner one night. All signs pointed to yes. And when I saw her, I knew I could commit wholeheartedly. I also knew I wouldn't be calling her Penny, though her dad does. For me, it just feels too good to roll all four syllables around in my mouth: Puh-neh-low-PEEE!
(Quick riddle from my younger stepson, Eli: How come we called her Penelope? Because we thought it'd be rude to call her Penelopoop.)
In Greek, Penelope means dream weaver; a character named Penelope figures large in the plot of The Odyssey, a stalwart and faithful wife who staves off greedy suitors for the 20 years her husband is away at sea (even though he has his own romantic adventures, but all right). In a recent retelling by Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad, she becomes even more heroic. There's the gorgeous Penelope Cruz, of course. And Penny Marshall! But mostly, there's my Penelope, whose name has already been pronounced so many funny ways that we had to make up a song about it:
Oh I hope
To see a Pen-uh-lope,
Oh I hope to see
Some people say
That's not me
I say Penelopeeeee.EEEEE!
Penelope ranks No. 81 on CafeMom, and No. 598 at the Social Security Administration's listing of popular names of the 2000s. And one of my editors here at CafeMom even has a Penelope of her own! May a thousand Penelopes bloom!