The day after my twins were born, my mom handed me the birth certificates the nurse had brought in earlier. I had put them aside, too consumed with the status of my tiny preemies, a few floors down from me in the neonatal intensive care unit, their tiny bodies engulfed in tubes, where they would stay for two months. “They cannot be Parker A and Parker B forever,” my mom said to me now, referring to the nomenclature doctors use for twins in utero and in the NICU. Those little beings in the incubators did not seem real to me at that moment, but she was, obviously, right.
I realized I had no second name, first or middle. In fact, I had no middle name for the first twin. All I had was Natalie.
I would blame the fact that my twins were born way too early for my lack of readiness on that front, and that was part of the reason, but I wasn’t fully ready to name my third child when she came, and she was two days late. So maybe it’s me.
We did think about names a little bit during my short pregnancy, but not all that much. I just brushed it off when people asked me what the names would be. My friend called them Thing 1 and Thing 2. When we found out they were girls, my sister called them Mary Kate and Ashley.
I was told they were fraternal because I had two placentas and two sacs, and that was what I thought until they were about five months old, when I learned that many things people think about twins are false. A DNA test revealed that they are indeed identical.
During the nine weeks between the time I found out they were girls and the time my water broke, I played with the idea of alliteration (and I do think it is really cute) but ultimately I decided they should have names as if they were singletons. Even if they were fraternal, they were both girls, and I knew they would spend a lot of their lives being mixed up. Their names should not contribute to that.
I had a few other preferences. I wanted the names to be conventional in spelling. Call me a traditionalist, but I thought it was just easier for them that way. If the name had more than one syllable, it had to shorten to an acceptable nickname because everyone in my immediate family got one. There was no point in fighting it.
There was only one name – male or female – to which I was attached. Natalie Saul was my maternal grandmother’s younger sister, my great aunt. She died of leukemia at the age of 21, decades before I was born. My grandmother (or Nana as we call her) spoke of her often during my childhood and the name had been rattling around in my head for a long time. Natalie’s death had affected my Nana deeply, and she spoke of Natalie with such fondness that I had become very fond of the name. Even the nickname “Nat” seemed okay to me.
I like my Nana’s own names too – Estelle Lana – but they were loaded with so much meaning (my Nana has a very strong personality) that I did not want to repeat them, at least not yet. She also told me she did not want me to use them for my kids. “My names are not so great,” she told me, adding, “even though I don’t believe in luck, it’s bad luck,” referring to the Jewish tradition of not naming babies after living relatives.
One night, during what would turn out to be the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I remember starting a handwritten list of names on a legal pad at home, on a page sandwiched in between pages of notes from a meeting – way too many notes, I recall, but I was a nervous first year lawyer. I got no further than “Names – Natalie.” I had to think of two of these, I lamented. I figured that I would do this later.
Later came sooner than I thought.
Lying on the hospital bed during what should have been the start of the 30th week of my pregnancy, my mother and husband sitting beside me, I realized that there was another name I liked. The twins were born in November 2004, and the news in recent weeks had been dominated by the Kerry/Bush election. One night, I saw John Kerry’s daughter Alexandra Kerry speak at a rally. The television was muted, but the name, spelled on the bottom of the screen, clicked in my head. There was a rhythm and elegance to it that endeared it to me.
I decided quickly in the hospital that I was ok with the inevitable name Alex too. (Now, it is often shortened even more to “Al.”) Did it sound good with Natalie? After all, both names would be said in the same breath many times. I had no idea.
I told my husband one twin would be named Alexandra. He was easygoing about it. His tolerance for my name choice was high – not without limits, but relatively high, especially given the state I was in after the twins’ traumatic birth and the unsure state of their health.
Then came the decision of which twin would get which name. There was no meaningful difference to me at that point between the two. I felt little attachment to them at all, really, just a lot of confusion and fear about the long road ahead. I had not even held them yet, and I would not for a few more days. But Natalie was the name to which I had been wedded for so long, and she was the first baby – the one whose water broke and started this whole process. Parker A would be Natalie and (despite the first letter) Parker B would be Alexandra.
We went down to the NICU and their nurse wrote their names in pen above the Parker A and B designations on the cards attached to the incubators.
They were here.