Ever since second grade when I did a report on the Arctic Tern I’ve loved birds. I used to sit in my backyard with binoculars looking up into the 75-year-old Elm tree in search of the American goldfinch, which in my mind was the most exotic species that existed in southern Westchester. But when I had my first daughter, and named her Phoebe, we weren’t even thinking that this was the name of a songbird in the tyrant flycatcher family. We were just thinking that Holden Caulfield’s little sister Phoebe seemed really cool (and a lot more mentally stable than her brother).
But it turns out that naming my daughter after a bird has had some excellent advantages. For starters, Phoebe, the human, could not have been more pleased when Phoebe, the flycatcher, appeared in the “Summer Days” chapter of Charlotte’s Web. (“On an apple bough, the phoebe teeters and wags its tail and says ‘Phoebe, phoe-bee!”) As if we need another reason to read E.B. White! But even better were the gift ideas that the name inspired. I think in the first five years of my daughter’s life she received about a half dozen presents that were Phoebe-themed. Bird and otherwise. There was the framed photograph – if it wasn’t an official Sibley portrait, it was pretty close — from our friend Charlie when she was born. There was the commissioned painting of a Phoebe bird from my in-laws. There was a DVD of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, starring Phoebe Cates. (OK, fine, that was a gift for us.) And there was this supercool gift from our friends Devin and Danielle – it’s a framed page taken from the 1930 classic Bird Children and is the crown jewel in Phoebe’s collection of framed illustrations from favorite books.
I love the idea behind this last gift almost as much as the gift itself. And from now on, whenever a friend has a baby, the first thing I do is search for that baby’s name on Amazon. You’d be amazed how many places a name exists in this world – even if you do not go by Olivia, Madeline, or David.