The trials and tribulations of choosing a baby name
Tonight’s episode of Call the Midwife: the Casebook shows the struggle of birth – but what about all the tough decisions that come afterwards?
Giving birth has never been straightforward, as Call the Midwife: the Casebook reminds us this week. But as a father I can tell you that once the baby has been born, the hard work begins.
We knew we were having a boy in June, and our son was born in November. You would think that five months was quite enough time to choose a name for the little fellow but we didn’t finally settle on a name until four weeks after he was born. I wasn’t expecting it to be such an epic struggle – we had named our daughter Laila within a fortnight – but it was a total nightmare and even now I’m not fully certain we did the right thing.
It’s an awesome power to name another human being. My wife Bridget and I had three tests that any potential name had to pass. First, it had to be easy to say and spell. I have spent my entire life having to spell my name out or trying to explain how to pronounce it and I did not wish that on my child. Second, the name should have some history or meaning behind it.
Layla and Majnun is a 12th-century poem from Persia that predates Romeo and Juliet and is said to have possibly inspired Shakespeare. That story also inspired a classic Bollywood song called Laila O Laila, which I remember hearing when I was young. I had loved the name ever since.
Sarfraz Manzoor is a journalist, documentary maker and broadcaster
So we needed a name that was easy to spell and had a great meaning behind it, but that wasn’t all. I have Pakistani Muslim heritage and my wife is white Scottish. Our third condition was that the name needed to work across cultures. There are names that have crossover appeal – Adam, Daniyal, Harris – but they didn’t appeal to us. We wanted a name that was as quirky, cool and curious as we hoped our little boy would be. The questions we were wrestling with, we realised, were whether a name should honour the past or reflect the present, and whether a name had to mean anything or just sound good.
We had one name we really loved. It was easy to say and spell, it was unusual and it meant “help”, which I was hoping he would offer when Bridget and I were older. The only trouble was that it was, well, a wee bit Jewish. It was the name of a prophet who appeared in both the Old Testament and the Koran, but the spelling we preferred was the Hebrew version. That worried me – it might not go down well in Lahore, or even my home town of Luton. They might have preferred a name that reflected the culture they’d come from. How we anguished! I went on Twitter and searched for people called it and found that in Indonesia it was considered a Muslim name, which was a bit helpful, but would have been more so if we were planning on relocating to Jakarta.
On the day we were meant to be officially naming our son, we still had not decided. In desperation I called a friend who is an imam and Islamic scholar and who had officiated at our religious wedding. His name is Usama, so he knows a little about how names can have unhelpful connotations. Did it matter that our preferred name was not technically Muslim, I asked him?
“There is no such thing as a Muslim name,” he said. “People think to have a Muslim name you need to have an Arabic name but that’s not true – a Muslim name is just any name that has a good meaning.” He then reminded me that my own name wasn’t Arabic. “Sarfraz is Persian,” he said. Emboldened by Usama we made our decision: we were unlikely to have any more children so we would give our boy the name we most loved, the name that works best in this country, and worry less about the past or Pakistan. And that was how we came to name our little boy Ezra.
Call the Midwife: The Casebook is on BBC1 tonight at 5.05pm