We spent a long time deliberating over Antonia’s names. I thought I would call my daughter Lucia, but Michael went off it. Then he returned from a trip to Germany and told me – ‘I’ve got it. Antonia.’ I paused. I thought of Willa Cather’s beautiful novel, My Antonia. I thought, I could have an Antonia of my own. I looked up the meaning of the name. Antonia means ‘priceless one’, which is exactly right. I had waitied so long for her. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I like it, but what would you put with it?’
I wanted a name that meant light, or the sky. I very deeply wanted this, I don’t know why.
After trawling through name sites, I found Celeste. Antonia Celeste. Michael wasn’t sure. It’s not a common name here or in Germany.
We tossed up using family names, but none of them felt right. ‘We could give her two middle names’, said Michael. I didn’t want to, but he really did.
We decided not to use family names, and just find names that we liked. I didn’t like any that Michael suggested: Teresia, Juno, Viktoria, Augusta, Octavia. ‘We can’t name our baby after our car,’ I said. ‘ I was thinking more along the lines of Austrian empress’, he said. She would have Michael’s surname. ‘The middle name has to mean something to me,’ I said.
In the end I gave him a list. One of these, I said: Celeste, Lucy, Elinor. Mostly, I wanted Celeste.
Not Celeste, said Michael. Unless we have two. Elinor Celeste.
I wasn’t sure. We stopped talking about it. It was quite stressful. I didn’t want to argue.
We didn’t raise it again until she was a day old. I cuddled Antonia on the nursing chair by the window in the hospital. Michael lay on the bed beside us. We looked at Antonia and stroked her little hands.
‘What shall we use as a middle name?’ said Michael.
I drew a deep breath. ‘I really want to call her Celeste’, I said.
‘What was the other name I liked?’ asked Michael.
‘Viktoria? Teresia? I don’t like them.’
‘No, the the other one.’
‘Yes. We can call her Antonia Elinor Celeste.’
I looked down at the tiny warm being curled on my chest. I loved her. I loved Michael. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Okay. She can have all the names. Antonia Elinor Celeste.’
Antonia, priceless one. I like ‘Antonia’ because of its meaning, its sound and its look on the page – perfectly balanced and framed with ‘a’s. It has the same number of letters as Melanie, and an ‘n’ and an ‘i’ in the same place. I like that it’s a Latin name, like Felix – it seems appropriate for a child of mixed Eurepean ancestry. Michael thinks it would look good on a scientific journal paper. It is a pretty name, and a strong name. I like its reference to the beautiful book, with all its descriptions of light, and rippling fields of grass.
Elinor is the Scandinavian spelling of Eleanor. The spelling is also used in England – Jane Austen uses ‘Elinor’ in Sense and Sensibility, which I had been reading in the final weeks of my pregnancy. I’ve always liked the sound of Elinor, and it reminds me of ‘Elanor’, from the Lord of the Rings – a small, star shaped flower beloved of the elves. Sam Gamgee names his daugher Elanor at the end of the novel. (That book was my alternative universe during my teenage years.) People often think Eleanor is related to Helen, which means blazing or bright, and would tie in with my ‘light’ theme, but it actually means ‘unknown’, ‘other’, or ‘foreign’. Antonia is deeply familiar to me, not foreign at all, but the meaning is perhaps not entirely inappropriate for a child of parents of two different nationalities, born in a third country. It is also a beloved name in Norway, which is nice.
Celeste – heavenly, celestial. I wanted a name that meant the sky, or light, and this means both. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking up at the sky, reading it, dreaming it, writing it, and some beautiful moments of my life sailing through it. I think of Dante’s Paradiso, the Psalms, and Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline: ‘the sky is the garden of Tourmaline’. And we are made of stars – all the elements we are formed from were forged there. When I told my Mum one of Antonia’s names was Celeste, she knew immediately, and said ‘that’s really for you, isn’t it’.
Antonia Elinor Celeste is a big name for a tiny being. She is earthy, not celestial, although her face is round like the moon. She is familiar, not foreign. She is undoubtably priceless. A lot of the time she gets ‘Teeny Tiny Toni’, or Puff Puff, or Pudding. Or even, from Michael, Brussel Sprout. But these are her baby names, and she will not be a baby for long. Names are gifts and dreams, and she can take or leave them as she chooses, and as those around her choose. But she came to us, and through us, and we have named her with love and with joy.