Monday, March 28, 2022

What's in a name?

We wanted an elegant and sophisticated name for formal occasions but one that could also be shortened into something quirky and fun in everyday use. We'd privately chosen Samantha and planned to call her Sammie for short.

In my mind's eye, I could see myself palling around with my little peanut, Sammie, on our many adventures. In these fantasy outings I concocted in my head, her mother had often dressed her in overalls instead of a dress, and she dragged a little stuffed monkey around with her.

With no real point of reference having lost my own father at age three, I don't know why I pictured fatherhood that way. I just did.

She could wear a dress to church and be called Samantha, but for our daddy-daughter outings, my Sammie needed to be ready to get a little dirt on her knees. She needed to know how to take a bump just as well as pose for a photo, and I planned to show her how. As I'd find out later, she knew how to take a bump, and give one, just fine all on her own, thank you very much.

Samantha was perfect, bewitching if you need a little groan-inducing attempt at humor, yet here we sat, nearly a week into our NICU stay after her birth with no nametag on her crib. It just didn't fit after she was born, and we were reluctant to name her.

But the wait was getting ridiculous, if not embarrassing then at least uncomfortable. Our baby deserved a name.

So the three of us - Mary, Kate (Mary's sister), and me - started yet another brainstorming session. We ticked through name after name, rejecting each for one reason or another and sometimes for no reason at all.

Elizabeth was too ubiquitous. Valerie had been a mean girl on 90210. Kelly was Kelly Kapowski from Saved by the Bell. And Tiffani... Tiffani was definitely out since she'd played them both!

And then Kate said, "Ruby." I don't think she even managed to get the word out without giggling through it. In fact, we all laughed at first, dismissing it even more quickly than the rest.

It was such an old name. It reminded me of a Coney Island fortune teller in a floor-length red velvet dress and white shawl that had faded to off-white over the years, cleverly parting tourists from their hard-earned money with outlandish tales of riches they'd acquire and hearts they'd break along the way. It certainly didn't conjure an image of an innocent little girl.

We hadn't yet heard her raspy laugh that sounded more like it belonged to a smoker with a 2-pack-a-day habit than to a baby. That would come a few months later when her unmistakable personality started to develop.

Even so, maybe we intuitively knew already that she wasn't going to embody the typical image of an innocent little girl despite possessing a certain angelic quality. Our original choice, Samantha, wasn't a name for a delicate flower, and neither was Ruby.

Maybe she was destined to be more of a mischievous storyteller - someone who knew things about people and the world that she shouldn't rightfully know at her age or at any age. She already knew how to breathe room air without her oxygen mask, and she shouldn't know that at 32 weeks and 2 pounds. I didn't think she should know how to scoot toward my hand to say hi when I'd put it through the care porthole in her incubator either, but she knew that, too.

Ruby lingered in my mind overnight, and I brought it up the next day. To my surprise, Kate and Mary didn't despise it either. The more we repeated it, the more it grew on us.

I don't remember who first called her "Roo" or when. Did that come before or after we told the nurse to write "Ruby" on her nametag? Had we brought her home from the hospital, or were we already referring to her as "Roo" in the NICU?

It doesn't matter, because, from the moment I heard "Roo," wherever I was, I knew that was her. There was no lingering, no growing on me, and no adjusting to it. She was Roo, through and through, the first time ever I heard it.

CODA won Best Picture last night. I don't think too much of awards for art. Do we really have to compete over everything? Aren't some things just meant to be enjoyed and appreciated without a scorecard? I know my opinion is unpopular, but shouldn't simply participating be good enough for some of life's pleasures without crowning winners and losers?

You sang. You danced. You acted. You created something, and maybe someone will find some beauty in it. Good for you! You made the world a better place in some small way just by having the courage to participate. Here's your trophy. Go in peace and create some more.

These awards do serve a purpose, though. Occasionally, some small film I might not have otherwise heard about gets enough press to pique my curiosity, and then I go and find it.

I'm going to find CODA and watch it. It must be pretty good to have won, but more importantly to me, the title character's name is Ruby.

To this day, that name is rare enough to stop me in my tracks when I hear it, and I feel a connection to every Ruby. Mostly though, I feel an unbreakable bond with the one Ruby who was a part of my life for a few short years.

"What's in a name?" you ask. If that name is Ruby, then, for me, everything.

Scroll past the photos if you'd like to listen to a pretty song I thought of today when I was writing about that beautiful name. It probably didn't win any awards, and neither did Roo, but that won't stop us from enjoying it just the same.