May 13, 2013 at 10:47 AM ET
My first name, "Gael," pronounced the same as "Gail" but spelled like the Gaelic language, has never been popular. No, that's giving it too much credit. My name has never been even in the same room as popular. While I've heard of a few other women who spell their name my way, I've never met anyone else with it, and I've had to spell my name every day for my entire life.
And now, according to the latest baby-name lists, my name is actually trending. For boys, thanks in part to hunky Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who pronounces his name more like "Guy-ell."
Gender jump aside, it's weird to think of my name being trendy after 45 years of feeling like the only person who ever had it. No one who doesn't know me will spell it correctly upon hearing it. The most common choice is GAIL, of course. GAYLE and GALE are also options. Sometimes people get creative, GAELLE or GAYL. At Starbucks, I let them spell it however they want on the cup. There I've seen DALE more than once, and one time, JULIE. What? I don't know. Maybe the barista had too much caffeine that day.
Even my parents weren't quite sure they wanted to commit to such an unusual spelling, despite Mom's Irish roots. I once found an order form my Mom filled out for a personalized Gerber baby spoon, where even she spelled my name "GAIL." When I asked, she was vague, "I couldn't decide. I wasn't sure you'd like it spelled your way," she said.
And I didn't. What child of the 1970s doesn't want to be able to find their name on a rack of personalized license plates, or in my case, on funky brown leather bracelets with snaps? (Circa 1976, I bought a GAIL bracelet and used a blue ballpoint pen to make the I into an E. It looked great, as you can imagine)
My best friend has the #1 and #3 names from 1967, the year we were born -- Lisa Michelle. While she wasn't exactly thrilled with having to be "Lisa O." all the time, at least her Highlights for Children subscription didn't come addressed to GUEL.
I have come to peace with my name, kind of. I've been to Ireland and Scotland and am proud that my name means "a Gaelic-speaking Celt." (While there, I found GAEL in a baby name book in a Galway bookshop -- listed as a boy's name.) I am easily Googled. I love the G.K. Chesterton verse about how "The great Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad." I think fondly of the friend who nicknamed me Ga-El, a homage to Superman's dad, Jor-El.
When my husband and I named our daughter, now 5, we turned to a name that was easy to both spell and pronounce: Kelly. And at least one person berated me for it. "KELLY? That's a Seventies name, like Nicole," she sneered. (Not sure what her problem was with "Nicole.") But in a class where two of her best buddies are named Aubrey and Ainsley, Kelly's Seventies name almost makes her unique.
So to all your future male Gaels out there, good luck. And if there are enough of you to make the name really popular, maybe we can all meet up someday and show off our cool personalized brown leather bracelets.