Names: what they mean and what they mean.
Following a chat in work about baby names, and what we might have been called had we been a different sex, I have been pondering names. Having investigated the subject as part of a ‘personal identity’ module at University, it amazes me that people are so unthinking in their choices when naming children, particularly in light of studies that cite the psychological impacts of the wrong name.
So what is truly ‘in a name? ‘
Your name is one of the first things you receive, and often it has been considered very carefully in the nine months your parents were waiting for you to arrive… Often longer.
It is no mean feat, with 1 in 5 of the parents asked in one British study expressing regret at the name they chose.
I picked my eldest daughters name when I was 14; Harriet was the protagonists best friend in Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’ and I knew I would one day call my daughter that. As soon as the scan revealed our first child would be a girl she was already named, and spoken about like she was already there. It creates an amazing bond to know what someone is already going to be called when they arrive into your home and life.
The only slight hiccup came from a ‘family friend’ who suggested it was too nice a name for us; that a child living in an ex-council flat should be called ‘something more suitable’ and that she would be bullied as it was a ‘posh’ name.
While we clearly ignored this sage advice and Harri has happily managed with her given name, there is truth in the suggestion that certain names carry connotations.
Studies carried out in the 1950’s showed that children given ‘unusual names’ often did less well academically. The studies also suggested that names had an influence on your career, who you had relationships with and how you were perceived by peers.
It was thought that this was because people tend to lean more towards familiar names; towards people we believe are ‘like us’ – particularly if they share our names, or initials.
More recent studies suggest that ‘deviant spellings’ of common names can have an impact on a child’s reading and writing development – it must be quite dishearting to be constantly questioned over the spelling of your own name because your parents chose to spell it ‘Kayce’ rather than ‘Casey’ .
Also discovered was a demonstrable link between what children are called and behaviour. Boys that had been given names, that while traditionally male, were now considered more feminine, such as Ashley or Courtney, were more likely to display poor behaviour in educational settings. This was more prevalent in high schools, where there were more children and the boy was more likely to confront a girl with the same name as him.
Cultural and social
More often now, the bias created by names has social or racial undertones. Some names have become synonymous with certain groups and an opinion is often formed from just hearing what someone is called ; Presumptions are made of the ethnicity and social standing of a person based on their name.
In one study, C.Vs were sent to companies that listed identical qualifications and experience. The only difference was the name of the applicant; one had a name that was considered traditionally ‘white’, while the other name could be considered more traditionally ‘black’. It was found that in many cases the ‘white’ candidate was favoured. Some employers now remove names from applications to prevent this kind of bias – although if a persons address, or school history is visible to an employer, maybe that could have a similarly discriminatory effect. However more recent studies displayed similar biases, with one Nigerian graduate stating she had considered changing her name to increase her employment opportunities.
Classic but common
When I had my second daughter, Hannah, we were not able to find out her gender before she was born, her legs were crossed! So we had Robert and Isabella picked out, to cover our bases.
Obviously we used neither of those as Harri picked the name when she arrived at hospital and asked ‘is that my baby, Hannah?’. Apparently yes! (Although I was able to sneak Belle in as a middle name) Not that I minded, it is a fairly sensible, timeless name. Totally normal, even has a nice meaning. The problem with classic, sensible names is that so many of us opt for them!
As was probably noticeable when you were at school, some names are very popular. Some are trends, some are evergreen classics. Either way be prepared to be turning you head every five minutes when you hear ‘your’ name bring called constantly. I had this problem myself.
You may be thinking that Polly is not a particularly common name and you would be right. I, in fact, have a confession. Polly is not my real name.
I was bestowed with a ‘classic’ name, I was one of six at college, so took to using my Guiding name, and I have introduced myself as Polly ever since.
Classic names are popular because they are nice – but popular means there are hundreds of us!
It would seem you can be neither too unique or predicable when naming Children!
I have a few more children – don’t judge! We didn’t have a T. V!
When we knew we were having boy, once again we had a name ready. Tobias. I had managed to convince my husband that while I wanted to honour the family tradition of calling the first boy Robert, when you type Robert Thompson into Google (and I would seriously recommend you do this) you are met with the face of a convicted child killer, and I didn’t particularly want that for young Bertie.
Toby, or Tiggs as he is called, is rarely given his full name, but I like that he has the option. Robert obviously had to be used as a second name, and as we thought we were finished having children we stuck a ‘John’ in for good measure to tick a few of my family boxes.
This was in 2003 – a year after Spiderman starring Toby Maguire came out. I don’t think I consciously named Tiggs after an actor, but everyone assumed I did. That is why my final surprise child had a name change. My intention had been to call him Theodore Ethan James – and then shorten it to Teddie or Theo. Then the footballer Theo Walcott took off – and suddenly everyone around me was calling their son Theo (if they weren’t calling them Jack, Harry or Thomas), so he ended up with just the two names. To be honest it makes receiving mail easier, if everyone has the same initials it gets a bit complicated!
Time can be unkind…
Sometimes you may name a child with the greatest of care, and then something happens and suddenly that name makes life a nightmare.
Imagine the surprise the poor owner of the Teresa May twitter handle, who happens to not be the current Prime minister, on being tagged into messages from Donald Trump or various people complaining about the state of the country!
There was a case years ago of a couple with the surname Peacock calling their son Drew, before it was pointed out to them how unfortunate the names sounded together…
Sometimes you need to say the name out loud a few times, consider the ways it will be shortened and whether the initials spell out unfortunate acronyms!
So if you are ever in a position where you have to name a child, be very careful. As mentioned before, trendy spellings do your child no favour, it is a nightmare having to constantly spell it out, and you can never get stuff with your name on! (not a problem I had as a child!) Yet if you pick a name that is too popular you run the risk of losing your child in a crowd of Jess’s and Oliver’s. What is a parent to do?
Do you have names picked out for future children? Are you still happy with the names you chose?
Let me know in the comments down below.