Liann — who gives baby name advice here on Early Mama — is a good personal friend of mine with an interesting "early mama" story. Here I chat with her about marrying an older man, her biggest challenge as a young mom, and what's exactly up with her baby name obsession.
1. Let's start with your "early marriage", because I love the story of how you met your husband. It's such a Millennial match up. Can you share that story?
Chris and I met on Myspace, if you can believe it. His band at that point was home from touring the country in their RV and he was sending out promotional messages to people in the area to spread the word about his band. As he tells it, he saw my picture and the quote I was using (“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”) and decided to send me a more personal message.
We started talking on Myspace and then on the phone, eventually deciding to meet in person. We met at a restaurant around 7 p.m. and ended up closing the place down around midnight when we realized that our waitress was sweeping the floors next to us. Walking out to our cars, we both were like, “Sooo, what are you doing now?” And we ended up going to a diner and talking for another two hours. I’d say that’s a pretty successful first date! His band was about to go back out on tour, so we spent as much time as possible together in the next week, and then spent the following two months getting to know each other over the phone.
By the time he got home, we were both fully committed and have been ever since.
2. So there's quite an age difference between you two — what's been your experience with that?
Chris is 14 years older than I am. Although, when people find out his age, they often can’t believe it. When we met, it was certainly the big pink elephant in the room. I was a 21-year-old college senior, and he was a 35-year-old drummer who lived in an RV with four other people. Those were two fun facts I couldn’t wait to share with my parents. Luckily, it quickly became a non-issue for us and our families, and I don’t think any of us even think about it anymore.
3. I know there are a lot of young Early Mama readers who are married to older men, and I'm wondering if you can see any differences in your parenting and marriage experience — you at the beginning of adulthood, him later.
I guess that there are pros and cons of the age difference. I feel like Chris had so much more experience with dating and relationships than I did, but because of that experience he knew what he wanted in a partner. We built our relationship on a foundation of strong communication and the fact that we really are best friends. I’ve learned so much from him about how to be in a relationship and I count myself very lucky for that. As for parenting, we both had no idea what we were doing and have had to learn together, so I don’t think the age gap made a difference in that aspect of our marriage. It is interesting, though, that while I am an early mama, my husband is not an early dad. We both will never know the other's perspective, even as we raise the same two boys.
4. Did you always want to be a young mom or did you make that decision after meeting Chris?
I didn’t always want to be a young mom. I had this idea in my head that hopefully I would find someone that I loved, or at least was satisfied with by the time I turned 30. Kids were always a part of the plan, but I never thought about when. Meeting Chris so early in my life was a shock. It still surprises me. I’m 28, about to celebrate my five-year wedding anniversary (7 ½ years together), and have two kids. How did that happen?
In terms of having kids, I started thinking about babies as soon as we were together. I think I realized that I had met the man who would be the father of my children, and the baby fever got me. When we seriously started talking about it, we decided that we wanted to have our first child by the time Chris was 40. Duncan was born 5 months before Chris’s 40th. Having to take another person's timetable into account for something of that magnitude was a little strange, I guess. But isn’t that what you do when you choose to share your life with someone? It wasn’t just my life anymore. It was our life and his desires and concerns were just as valid and important as my own. And like I said, I had the fever, so I never felt like I was compromising beyond what I was comfortable with.
5. What are some of your favorite reasons for being a younger mom?
I think what I like the most about being a younger mom is that I have more years with my boys. I will only be 45 when Harrison is 18, and I have a much different perspective on 45 now than I used to!
6. And what have been some of the biggest challenges?
Most certainly, the biggest challenge I have ever faced is the Post Partum Depression I’ve been dealing with since Harrison was born. There is so much more to it than I can possibly fit in this Q&A, but I will leave it at I am finally getting the help I needed and am on a path to getting better. I’m not there yet, but Chris and I have been taking the steps needed to get me there.
7. So why baby names?
I can’t help but laugh at this question. Why baby names? I have no idea! It hasn’t been this lifelong hobby of mine (like it is with many members of the name nerd community – yes, that’s what we’re called). I started thinking about and looking at baby names when the fever hit. I started making lists and revising them. At that point I was thinking about future names for my kiddos. But then Duncan was born and named and I still found myself looking. I guess I find it fascinating. People's taste in names is so diverse — from family, to trendy, to classic, to foreign. There are so many different categories and so many gorgeous names. And then there is the naming process. Some people know the name of their baby the minute they find out they’re pregnant. Others can’t settle on a name for days after the baby is already here (ahem, Chris and myself). I just find it all so interesting.
8. Can you give us a little background on your kids' names?
My kiddos are Duncan Henry O’Keefe and Harrison Luc Walter. The amount of thought that went into these two names would probably make some people's heads spin. When I was pregnant with Duncan, after months of agonizing, we had our list narrowed down to three names: Arlo, Tate, and Emmett. Yup, Duncan wasn’t even a finalist. Chris had actually vetoed him many months before. But when our little man came out, he just didn’t look like any of our finalists. So we went back to our longer lists (of which there were several) and I remember it so clearly. Chris was sitting on a chair next to my hospital bed looking at the lists. I could just see some of the names, and I said, “What about Duncan?” It was the third down and just jumped out at me. We spent the next two days going back and forth between Duncan and anything else we thought of, but Duncan won every time. Finally, and to the great relief of our families and friends, we signed his birth certificate as we were walking out the door to bring him home. Henry is the name of my father’s father who passed just before I was born. And O’Keefe is part of my maiden name (O’Keefe-Sommer).
With Harrison though, we didn’t even have a finalist list. I think the list we brought to the hospital had 15 names on it. I just felt that narrowing the list down hadn’t helped when naming Duncan, so we didn’t even try this time. Turns out he wasn’t any of those 15 either. Harrison came off the list of 70-plus names we had on our computer. And again, once we found it, we spent the next few days comparing it to any and every other name we could, but he just WAS Harrison. We chose Luc after my brother Lucas and Walter is Chris’s maternal grandfathers name who passed when his mother was four.
We got a few looks about the double middles, but I couldn’t care less. These will most likely be our only children and we have honored each side of our family through those four names. I am very proud of them both and I think they are just perfect.
9. If you were to have a girl — and I know you're probably finished having kids, so just hypothetically — what would you name her?
Ahhh, girl names. I mourn the fact that I will never get to really name a girl (as much as I might try to influence all the pregnant ladies in my life). I was actually convinced that Harrison was a girl for about a month before the gender scan, but he made it quite clear that day that he was not happy being called she. Anyway, the day before the scan I settled on a name that I still adore – Sylvie Bernadette Sommer (pronounced Summer). Bernadette is Chris’s mom's middle and I’ve grown to love it, and Sommer is the other part of my maiden name. The only other serious contender at that point was Ramona Maeve Sommer, though Maeve has no family connection (I just think its one of the loveliest names ever and goes so beautifully with Ramona).
10. And tell us a little bit about your column here on Early Mama. What kind of questions are you looking to answer for readers?
What I enjoy most about names is helping my friends and family come up with ideas or options that hadn’t occurred to them. I can usually tell their style by the names they already like and I use that as a jumping off point to come up with others they may like. Naming your unborn child is such a personal and important decision and it can be overwhelming trying to find one name in a book of 50,000. And sometimes the issue isn’t the first name at all. Sometimes it’s the middle name or the initials, or soon-to-be parents are stuck between two and want an objective opinion. I would be so delighted to help others hone in on their styles and choices and maybe be able to suggest some names that end up on real babies! It would be a real honor to help in that process.
If you'd like to send Liann your baby name dilemmas, she'd be happy to help. Shoot us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Tamme Sitt Photography