When I shared my idea to name our soon-to-arrive daughter Carolina, my mom replied, “How about Caroline?” 

“I like Caroline,” I said, “but we have no connection it in our family.  I like Carolina because not only is it just a name that I like, one that reminds me of summers in the Appalachians, but it also references our family’s history of naming women after southern states.” 

“Hmmm,” she said, and eventually came on board in her classically supportive way. 

So our “girl name” has been Carolina for months and months.  I do love it.  I think it’s beautiful–interesting, feminine, easy to spell, recognizable internationally (It’s a very popular Latina and Italian name), and so forth.  People do keep asking if we will pronounce it Car-o-lihn-a or Car-o-leen-a, which feels more complicated than I imagined.  Folks also so seem to think immediately of the states of North and South Carolina when we say it, which is a stronger association than I was looking for.  As I wrote in my earlier blog post, I do think that once we have a personality to attach the name to, the state association would fade and she would just be herself, Carolina, but still, the experience of circulating our potential name hasn’t exactly confirmed it hands down for us. 

As I told my mom, one of the attractions of the name “Carolina” for me is its ability to reference an oral history of family female geneology.  Our first daughter’s name referenced both of Steve’s grandmothers.  Now it’s my turn.  I don’t have any women named Carolina in my family, but my great great great grandfather Whiting moved from Virginia to Alabama before the Civil War and named his first 4 daughters after the states that he loved: Virginia, Alabama, Florida, and (I think) Tennessee.  His fifth daughter he named Sally.  Such is the oral history, the story, that I have heard dozens and dozens of times.  Giving my daughter a name that reminds us of this story (and helps her to remember the names of her great grand mothers) is attractive to me, even though I’m so very glad that the Union won the Civil War.  I think that these oral histories, particularly about women’s names which so often get erased, are important. 

Over the months, we have softened to a baby name stance of telling people that we will name our little girl “either Carolina or Caroline” but that we would wait and meet her before deciding.  Steve has still only been 95% enthusiastic about these names, and he pulled out my Ellis Family Reunion directory this week to see if any other names appealed to him more.  It was sitting open on the kitchen counter a few days ago when I read:

“On June 18, 1868, in Aiken, S.C., Judge Ellis was married to Phoebe Caroline Prioleau, daughter of Samuel Prioleau of Charleston and Juliana M Fripp, his wife.”

We had already considered and declined the name Juliana, but here was a use of Caroline that I hadn’t known about.  Phoebe Caroline Prioleau.  Hmmm.  That intrigued me.  See, as I just said, one of the points to me of names is the stories that they enable us to remember and transmit across generations.  So if my daughter asks me (and people then ask her) why she is named Caroline, I could tell her that her great great great grandmother was named Phoebe Caroline Prioleau, and that she came from S Carolina and moved with her husband to Atlanta, where he became a judge after the Civil War.  She was my grandfather’s grandmother, and the barrier island where I played on the beach as a child (Fripp Island) was named for her mother’s family.  That’s oral history at work.  And I like it.

So we’ll see.  We can either go with the story from my mother’s side of the family about Mr Whiting naming his daughters for southern states, or from my father’s side of the family about what we know of the Ellis line.  Perhaps we will name this child “Caroline Prioleau Ellis TenElshof”, with a fourth name on the birth certificate just for historical fun.  Perhaps we’ll wait and see whom she reminds us of 🙂

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