Named for a Fruit? Make Juice
By STRAWBERRY SAROYAN
NEW YORK TIMES
Published: May 30, 2004
WHEN told about Gwyneth Paltrow’s name for her new daughter, my mother
paused for a moment. “We thought about naming you Apple,” she said,
“but decided it was too common.”
Because I grew up with the name Strawberry, my first reaction to
hearing about the birth of Ms. Paltrow’s daughter, Apple Blythe Alison
Martin, on May 14 was, “Finally, someone to share my vast body of
otherwise useless knowledge with.”
I was born in 1970 to counterculture parents. There is no overridingly
romantic or hilariously drug-addled story to explain their choice of
a name for me. It was suggested by my grandmother Carol, a whimsical
person who also came up with the name Cream for my younger sister. But
I didn’t know exactly why my parents had chosen the name until one
morning my mother explained: “We wanted it to be fun to have a kid. Why
have just another Jane or Debbie?”
In fact, it fit in perfectly with what my father was doing at the
time. A one-word poet – he would change a word by adding a letter
or two, or otherwise misspelling it – he was interested in messing
around with the alphabet of life, too. Who defines what makes up a
word? Who defines what makes up a name? It’s the same thing.
I was the one who picked up the tab, however, and this is where I
might be able to offer some tips to Apple, the daughter of Ms. Paltrow
and the rocker Chris Martin. First, the good news. Just as I was
raised in a tiny California beach community full of poets, peppered
with lots of other kids with unconventional names, she will grow up,
no matter where she is geographically, in “Hollywood,” which is also
rife with creatively named children. It helps.
There were sisters down the street named Ivory, Shelter and Wonder,
and other friends were named Ocean, Raspberry and Echo, so I was
not alone. What were they going to do, make fun of me? They did,
but I could bite back. I’ll never forget the terror as Cream and I
awaited the arrival of Wonder’s mother to speak with ours because we
had been calling her daughter Wonder Bread.
Over in England, her parents’ current home, Apple will grow up with
other celebrity children like Brooklyn Beckham (Posh and Becks’s son)
and Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes. When she visits Los Angeles, she
may romp with the daughters of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Rumer,
Scout and Tallulah Belle. Then there is Pilot Inspektor, the son of
the actor Jason Lee.
Yes, there will be dark days. When my parents moved to a super-preppy
town in Connecticut when I was 13, it seemed I had little choice
but to change my name, a shift that stuck for three years (I
chose Cara). There were also other moments when I longed for
normalcy. Visiting my grandmother Carol, who had remarried Walter
Matthau after marrying and divorcing my grandfather twice, I would
attend Jack and Felicia Lemmon’s Christmas party in Los Angeles. There,
I would have glimpses of Courtney, their daughter, who was pert and
pretty and also, it seemed to me, had the perfect name. As she wafted
through her white-walled Hollywood home, I thought she had the perfect
life, and perhaps that is what I really wanted.
Now, though, I see mainly upsides in my unusual first name. For
one thing, when you have a well-known last name (mine comes from
my paternal grandfather, the writer William Saroyan) an unusual
first name can derail otherwise inevitable questions about your
famous parents or grandparents. “Strawberry? Were your parents
high? Crazy? Mean?” The Saroyan part is often forgotten. My name can
also break the ice, especially in the company of other people from
well-known families. Once when I was in the offices of George magazine,
John F. Kennedy Jr. shook my hand enthusiastically. “Strawberry? Tell
me about your parents!” The irony seemed delightful: How often had
he, perhaps the most famous progeny in the world, gotten to say
those words? I wanted to throw the question back at him: what were
J.F.K. and Jackie like? But I restrained myself.
Then there will be the unforeseeable boons. My name has afforded
the occasional opportunity for clever flirting, for example. Years
ago when I met an ex-boyfriend of the writer Plum Sykes and he took
a liking to me, I couldn’t resist telling him, “You just like girls
with fruit names.” Another highlight was being invited to a party in
London by a well-connected friend of a friend. I didn’t find out part
of the reason why I was invited until later: he wanted to introduce
a girl named Strawberry to John Major, the prime minister at the
time. (Mr. Major wasn’t there but Claus von Bülow was, and though
I was delighted by our introduction, my name seemed to have little
effect on him.) I found out about my acquaintance’s ruse the next
Sunday, when he chronicled it in his column in a national newspaper,
and I proceeded to have a week or so of notoriety in London.
Of course, there are awkward moments too. “Nice to eat you” is one
greeting I remember, though I wish I didn’t have to. “Don’t people
think you’re a stripper?” a boyfriend once asked. He was wondering
if my name might hurt my career ambitions. For Apple, the puns have
already begun: “Big Apple,” having arrived at 9 pounds, 11 ounces, and
she is “Li’l Apple” and “Apple Martini.” Sometimes, even name-related
things that have happened a million times can be fun. I recently
interviewed Oprah Winfrey. Uncharacteristically nervous, I picked up
the phone on the second ring and was greeted by a strange sound.
“Strawberry Fields for-ever,” sang out the voice.
“Oprah?” I asked.
That summed up the name experience for me, as it very likely will
for Apple too. You just have to roll with it.
In the end, I would like to give the little girl some parting
words. Someday, you may come to see your name as part of a larger
picture of what your parents were trying to do, and one that will add
multitudes to your life. When Richard Avedon, a family friend who was
especially close with my grandmother, came out to visit my family in
California for several days during my childhood, he took a series of
photographs that seem now to pay tribute to the way of life our names
reflected. The pictures of us in our home with my mother’s paintings
on the walls and my father’s books on the shelves; the pictures of
us running around in the woods near our house; even just the ones
of us goofing around at a fancy restaurant having brunch, now seem
to me to be a visual reflection of what my parents were aiming for:
to create a family where countercultural ideas and artistic freedom
reigned. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin may be aiming for the same.
Who knows? Fruit names, and those goals, just might catch on.