No, You Can’t Be Morrissey

Some seven weeks ago I made the decision to forgo exercise, writing, home-cooking and advocating in order to commit to pursuits less pleasant but more pressing. These have included cleaning my basement, dusting crown molding and light fixtures, freelancing, book-packing (a-hem, donating) and the keeping and care of woodland salamanders.

When I’m not overwhelmed by all of the above, I take time to smell the roses, water our parched hydrangeas and think about names for a fourthcoming child. It’s fun and it’s proof that you can never run out of opportunities to disagree with your life partner.

Agatha. Eve. Lakshana. Solomon. Anahad. Nelson. Daphine. Celeste. Orlagh. Charlotte. Rolihlahla. Niall. Savni. Parnali. Charvi. Muriel. Jane. June. Yes, a girl would be grand but I will love whoever comes our way. I just hope this new person comes with a set of eyes, a head of hair or a newborn complexion and constitution that clearly signals: “Yes, I must be named X.”

There is another category of names, all proposed by my second child, that go like this: Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Fred, Legolas, Eowyn, Gimli, Dobby, Aragorn. Tonight I called his bluff and feigned genuine interest in Gimli as a frontrunner. The son’s eyes widened and his senses returned. “No mom, not really Gimli. That was really a joke.”

But for two weeks, one name has been at the top of my mind, yet I’ve hesitated to bring it to the tip of my tongue. It’s an unusual name, more of a surname, really – but not without precedent as an old Gaelic boys’ name. It means “Choice of the Sea,” and isn’t that lovely when you think about a child being raised, watered, biked and sunned along the shores of one of the world’s Great Lakes? Also, that name is Morrissey.

I trotted it out tentatively at first. I knew the judgement would come swiftly and with no reservation from domestic VIPs: My first children.

“You can’t name this baby Morrissey,” said my middle schooler. “It, like, would not work. He’s so old.”

But you can’t take too much parenting advice from someone who thinks black soccer shorts are suitable attire for games and for funerals, in summertime and in winter, and believes Akon to be the world’s greatest R&B performer. Also he found “The Book Thief” boring and barely made it through chapter two before quitting. This troubles me.

The other two kids were similarly dismissive. It’s hard to tell if they found the suggestion genuinely awful, or were just succumbing to sibling-induced peer pressure. Sibling condemnation is a powerful force in the minivan. Whether car chatter is about changing the radio station or casting a vote for where to eat dinner, the oldest too often wins.

I sort of mentioned it to my husband. He sort of thought it had potential, as a middle name. But as a first name? He did not appear game.

I grew quieter in the days that followed. Morrissey Jane, for a girl, would meaningfully combine the name of one of my favourite entertainers with the name of my long-deceased, never-met grandmother. It would be quirky and classic, a reminder of the golden age of popular music – some cynics say the final golden age – meets gorgeous Gaelic. My surname is alliteratively Irish, my freckles are fertile. These traits belong only to me and are nearly all that remains of my watery Midwestern Irish ancestry. Please, please, let me get what I want this time: an Irish baby!

But every deliberation turned to doubt. What if this baby is a boy? What if this baby has a lisp – mild or pronounced? What if she is less of an extrovert like me, more of an introvert like dad? Will she always want to explain “Choice of the Sea! In Gaelic. Also, my mom really likes ‘80s music. Yes, I know Lake Michigan is freshwater, not saline. But, well, Mom?”


1 album, 16 songs, 29 weeks

What if all my kids, fourthcoming included, really do hate the Smiths and Morrissey?

There were other scenarios to consider. Morrissey has said some disparaging things about Asia. This could be problematic for an Asian child named Morrissey. Our family eats more bacon than I am comfortable with. If Morrissey Senior ever met Morrissey Jane, he would probably not be flattered. Say something to her like: “You’re a murderous carnivore named Morrissey? Not my problem.” Also, he makes beautiful music but says things about hyperemeisis gravidarum and immigration that I disagree with. “The Queen is Dead” is a near-perfect album, I believe. But naming a child after someone who publicly wishes the queen dead? Probably not.

“He’s too imperfect,” said my husband a couple nights ago, after we were two of four people attending the local screening of “25 Live,” the Morrissey concert film.

I was already letting go of the name. Pretty much, I already had. Any name is a serious decision. Every name brings with it unintended consequences, which range from the serious to the unexceptional. In the early ‘90s, my new eighth-grade teacher didn’t make it through the Ms on the class roster before looking up: “I am telling you, Angela must have been the name the year you kids were born.” People always mispronounce my son’s lovely, old fashioned Hindi name, but he handles the situation with patience and just repeats his name more slowly. “With a V at the end,” has become a family catchphrase. Unintended but manageable and minor consequences, all these.

Recognizing no name is perfect and dream names die hard, I decided to workshop “Morrissey” one last time. I am friends with another unabashed, deeply opinionated, word-nerdy Moz fan. She shares his birthday! I asked her, kind of casually, what she thought.

“You can’t,” she said, after being briefly, empathetically captivated with ‘Choice of the Sea.’

“I didn’t even know that,” she said of the name’s maritime origins.

But she agreed that Moz sometimes says the darndest things, that even if Morrissey-the-name were 70 percent inspired by how it sounds and what it means and how double consonants are kind of a thing in my family, people who know the musician would only, could only think of that. And their thoughts would vary. Wildly and rightfully so.

Favourite musicians can be guilty pleasures, not unlike eating crispy bacon on a BLT when you know all the words to “Meat is Murder.” We all have them, and they can say so much about where we draw lines in diet, ideology, lifestyle and love. You can love a musician who sings: “America … where the president is never black, female or gay … you’ve got nothing to say to me,” (words which could only be Moz’ own) and hear that refrain in your head as you sweat your way through the D.C. subway four years later, headed to Barack Obama’s inauguration. You might find other aspects of that musician’s politics appalling.

If you feel it’s safer to avoid politics or popular music in favor of less polarizing small-talk possibilities, ask anyone who ever has named a child what they almost named that child(ren). You’ll probably get a gem of a story about why they went with Rowan, not Rohan, or Sophie instead of Isobel. Better still, asks folks what their name means to them. To me, for years, my given first name was an everyday reminder of the name that got away: Crystal. It had been choice no. 2, but my dad says my mom didn’t want anyone calling me “Cryst” as a nickname. The name they gave me worked: no one ever does call me Cryst!

Maybe someday my kids will croon along to Morrissey in the minivan. Middle child loves the common-sense absurdity of “Some Girls are Bigger Than Others.” “Suedehead” will be by mine forever. I will work on getting us off the cheap pork and onto smaller, pricier packs of low-nitrate bacon. The cost difference alone will force a rationing affect upon us. But I can promise this one thing: My fourthcoming child will not be named Morrissey. My introverted husband, my extroverted friend, my judgmental 12-year-old and me:

We all agree. Right?


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