Parents sometimes attempt to name their children into the life they wish for them. If that sounds wrong, consider that it’s only one of a zillion ways we choose for our children: where we live, how we educate them, what our family does with free time, the belief systems we pass on both intentionally and through daily living.
But does it work?
Ample evidence suggests no. At least – not reliably. Religious families have kids who fall away from their faith. Liberal families raise conservative kids. (Hello, 80s sitcom Family Ties based an entire seven-season sitcom around that ol’ chestnut.) From their earliest days, our kids are uniquely themselves – and that’s a gift.
We do tend to make snap judgements about people based on the tiniest of details. Despite my best efforts, I suspect I would react differently to a kid named, say, Legend than a kid called Peter. Because names can be these tiny packets of information. Mostly about the kids’ parents, I suppose. But that’s not nothing.
If Legend gets a different reaction … does that make Legend, over time, a different kind of kid? Do teachers expect him to be disruptive? Do they recommend Peter for the advanced math class over him, even if their grades are similar? Is Legend automatically the cool kid, the one who takes the lead on the playground?
And if so … should it change the names we choose?
My gut tells me that naming is a small part of the values and ideals we pass on. It’s unnecessary pressure to find a name outside of our preferences because, well, those preferences will make themselves known in countless other ways.
And yet … I wonder. What do you think?
- Lists like this one baffle me. Chrysanthemum is recommended, but Olga will scar your kid for life? I don’t get it.
- National Park Names, on the other hand? Yes, please! It makes me love choices as different as Frederica and Cade. And everything in between.
- I’m not sure how wearable these Ladino names are if your family isn’t of Judeo-Spanish heritage, but I’m fascinated by such lists. Also, anything to reclaim Allegra from allergy medicine.
- The latest book I read included a major character named Jane, nicknamed Jinx. Everything about Jinx appeals to me, but it’s just not a name I could give to a daughter. Maybe even as a nickname. See my thoughts about whether a name causes others to treat you differently, above.
- Curious thing: every week, I pour through the search terms that lead readers to this site. (That’s the source of the trending names that appear at the end of every post.) Lately, there’s a steady uptick of searches asking if Rebecca/Agnes/Margie/Marie/Jeannie/Lydia/Peggy are other names for Elizabeth. My theory? LOTS of children were baptized Elizabeth, but called by a different name over the years for so many reasons. And now their descendants are trying to figure out why there’s a mismatch in the records. Officially, none of those names are linked in any way to Elizabeth. And yet … I had a great-grandmother who answered to Katie when she came to America as an Italian Chiara. She’s listed as both in various official records. (Because we live in an age where a missing middle initial on your plane ticket can be a hassle, we forget that, pre-databases, records weren’t the same.) Has this happened in your own family? There must be thousands of stories …
- The New Names Showdown continues, and your vote matters. Weigh in on the Boys’ SemiFinals matches here, and don’t forget to vote in the Girls’ contests here, too.
Yeah, I’d much rather be named after a sea witch (Ursula, one of their “to avoid” names) than after a type of cheese (Brie, a “to consider” name).
Thanks for sharing the National Parks list! Glad you liked it.
Andrea Young says
That’s funny that you mentioned Legend. My 14 year old son plans on naming his boys Legend, Maverick, and Galloway. Galloway comes from a Louis L’Amour novel. What is interesting to me is that you think bad boy when you hear Legend, and I think cowboy cool. I think another dimension to why parents pick names is their geographical location. The name Bridger is a perfect example. It is unheard of back east, but as common as dandelions in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming where the mountain man Jim Bridger roamed back in the day. Plus, westerners are a lot more prone to picking names that sound cowboyish. I would be curious to see where cowboy names overlap between western states (excluding the coastal states) and Texas. Do names overlap ? And how many boys need to be named Cash before it is just a regular ole’ trendy name rather than a cowboy name? Super interesting. My very hipster niece (definitely a new generation of namer) wants a boy named Tripp. I love it. I love it, love it. It sounds so cowboy cool to me. There is definite overlap between the hipster and cowboy cool classifications (at least in the west????). So geographical and generational influences in naming–along with self-selection into different groups. I started out wanting names that sounded “intelligent” with some historical weight behind them. I think most parents definitely have a vibe they want that reflect their priorities or SES.
As a sidenote, I try to warn my son that his wife might not be on board with his boy name choices but he assures me that his wife will see right away that the names are awesome. Also, he has no girl names picked out because he’s pretty convinced he’s only having sons. Teenagers are hilarious. I love them.
Sorry I rambled. It is past my bedtime.
OH, I love it! Teenagers are great, aren’t they?
And that’s a VERY good point about how perceptions vary by region, and also, I assume by lots of other factors. Years ago, a colleague had a teenage daughter named Kathryn, called Kathy and Kat, named after her beloved grandmother. The problem? They were black, and her neighborhood and local schools were packed with girls named Tiana + Latasha, who wasted no time telling Kathy that her name was white. Kathy was despondent – why couldn’t her mom have given her a NORMAL name?! It was a very head-desk kind of moment for my colleague, who was the kindest, most considerate woman. We haven’t been in touch in years, but I do truly hope that her daughter grew to love her name.
I agree that there’s overlap between hipster and cowboy cool. It’s a really good question – how many kids does it take before a name is just mainstream cool?
Hi, I just happened to your site randomly after using google to look up the spelling of Appalachian. Interestingly I was looking it up for the name itself, not for the mountains. I just learned Appellation is a word relating to names and I kind of like it’s spelling over the mountain version.
Anyway, I’m glad I found your site because I am actually really into names too! So far I have read many of the articles and I’m loving it! Pretty cool my name was featured in one of the articles too. Keep up the good work!