We are standing in line at the grocery store and the cashier asks my daughter her name, “So—FEE—ah,” Sophia sings, with evident pride and joy.
“Oh that’s a beautiful name,” says the woman standing in line behind me, “I’ve always loved that name.”
“Me too,” I respond. And then I say what I always say, “I think Sophie is adorable for a little girl, and Sophia sounds so mellifluous and sophisticated for a woman.” The woman standing in line behind me nods and adds, “My niece’s name is Sophia.”
Such is the boon and the curse of Sophia’s name. It is universally hailed as beautiful…. I can see the powerful associations it has for people—and how quickly they project those associations onto my daughter when I tell them her name. Names have an impact on how we perceive others.
And: Everyone and her sister (or niece) is named Sophia.
We knew this would be the case. The day my friend Emily told me she was pregnant she also announced that, if the baby was a girl, she would name her daughter Sofie. It was hot and we were dangling our feet in a pool. I had to choke back a sob. I had just lost a pregnancy. A pregnancy I had hoped would result in a Sophia. Now, Emily wanted the same name for her daughter. Silly for me to mind or care, I minded and cared. The juvenile, “I wanted to name my daughter Sophia first!” came to mind, but I held that back too. After all, Emily had every right to name her daughter whatever she chose. But I was jealous. Probably more so of the pregnancy than the fact that she had selected a variant of the name I loved. Probably because she would get to use it, and I doubted I ever would.
Another cruel twist of fate. Later that summer, when Kevin and I sat in a pew in Pittsburg, watching a friend from grad school marry a lovely, intelligent and extremely pregnant woman, the priest revealed the unborn child’s name in his homily.
No! Really? Yes. It didn’t much matter that I cried then, as I wasn’t the only one in the church shedding tears.
That February, still reeling from my third pregnancy loss, I had just completed a three-month impregnation hiatus. We took the break at the suggestion of my fertility doc, who said it would allow my uterus to recover from the D & C used to remove my fetus. The fetus who lost her heartbeat at 11 weeks. I was in a restaurant in New York with my husband and friends of his from college. It was underground, dark, and cave-like. I was sipping water under some stalactites while the others drank wine. My cell phone rang. It was Emily. She had just given birth to Sofie. I expressed whatever joy and congratulations I could muster and then quickly hung up and excused myself. In the bathroom, I held my head in my hands and cried. I wanted to lie on the cold tile floor. I wanted to disappear. Not only did I feel wretched, I was deeply ashamed of the envy that prevented me from being happy for my friend.
I didn’t know that, at that moment, I was already 12 days pregnant with my Sophia.
In the months that followed, we agonized over names, as many parents do. A name has to perform many jobs—in addition to the impression that it creates in others, in Judaism a name reflects both where the child is from and our hopes for who the child will be. Ashkenazi Jews name their children for someone who has passed away, creating a continuity of family history, an inextricable, metaphysical bond between souls. The child is said to be imbued with the positive qualities of the deceased. I really wanted to name Sophia for my grandmother, Ruth, which, I hoped my mother would feel honored by and would channel some of my grandmother’s independent, free-thinking spirit. But, we couldn’t find a single “R” name we liked enough to be saying for the rest of our lives. We toyed with “Razia” for a little while...”Razie” while she was still young…but Kevin never really took a shine to it. We even briefly considered, Zofia, for my Great Aunt Zona, Ruth’s sister, who was like a second mother to my mother, made the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, and had stoically died from throat cancer. Both Razia and Zofia names with under-developed associations. What would others think of a Razia? Is she a raven-haired vixen or does she wear too much patchouli? And Zofia, is she the kind of woman you can’t get out of your head for all the right reasons, or does she tell your fortune for five bucks?
Without dispute, we both loved the name Sophia.
But at this point two of our friends had named their daughter Sophia, and surely there were scores of other parents, who similarly had bestowed their child with this beautiful word that meant “wisdom.” She was doomed to be Sophia M., sitting behind Sophia L and in front of Sophia N., in homeroom.
We already know how the story ends, for this is Life with Sophia, not Life with Razia or Life with Zophia. She emerged from my body and with the wisdom of DNA that has survived and evolved for tens of thousands of years, she took to my breast and sucked vigorously. It was then that we knew no other name would do.