Read an Excerpt
Why Names Matter So Much
Your name is important. Whether you liked it growing up or loathed it, your name was significant. People used it often or they didn't. People couldn't pronounce it or spell it right-or they could. Friends always remembered it-or they couldn't seem to place your name-ever.
All of these factors figure into the satisfaction rating you would give your name. So now that you're going to name your own baby, you want to know how that happened. Why are some people so lah-de-dah happy with their names while others despise the names they were given at birth, even to the point of going to court and paying to have them changed?
Indeed, a name can affect the ebb and flow of your entire existence. That's exactly why parents-to-be often give the baby-naming process numerous hours of list-perusing, head-scratching, and poll-taking.
Most people express satisfaction with their names if their names are mainstream, such as Michael, David, and Sam, or Lisa, Kathryn, and Christina. But it's common to see huge drops in satisfaction when we enter the realm of unusual names. A third of those with odd names will say they hated the name during childhood, but later "grew into" the name and now enjoy it. Another third with odd names report that they enjoyed having a different kind of name. The final third hated their names while they were children and still hate their names years later in adulthood. The latter group often think of their names as the albatross around their necks-the miserable excuse for a name that caused them grief and pain.
One woman named Charmaine says she didn't like her name because people always misspelled it and made fun of her. Every time she met someone, she heard, "Don't squeeze the Charmin!" She also faced a common problem that people with unusual names encounter: you can't ever buy personalized necklaces, key chains, or pens. The irony is that some kids with plain names envy the girl or boy with the unusual name. (I remember knowing a girl in elementary school whose name was Romaine, and I thought she had the coolest name on earth.)
For a kid who feels "stuck" with an albatross name, however, life can be long and bumpy. While people with better names seem to glide through social encounters effortlessly, the name-challenged types are more likely to stumble and bumble their way through the jungle.
If you have any doubt, note the baby-naming efforts of a person who grew up as Nyleen or Hortense, Huelett or Drakeston: you'll probably find that this individual will have offspring named John or Ann. One woman named Daphne-Jade says she wanted her daughter's name to be beautiful and unique but not freakish. "I didn't want her to have a lot of stress like I did with my name."
Sure, you just want your child to love his or her name. You want the name to fall off everyone's lips, making your kid happy and loved. You want that tot to grow up to excel in sports and academics and careers and relationships, and you want to see that name on a team roster, marquee, or at least an Academy Award or Pulitzer Prize.
So can a name pave the way to success and happiness? Psychologists tell us that having a name that's a good fit can make a person feel more self-confident. Conversely, your child's self-esteem may suffer if he winces every time someone laughs at his name. What's the significance of all this for you, the parent-in-waiting? You are dead-on right in thinking that finding the "right" name constitutes a major responsibility. This occasion is momentous enough to merit lots of discussion and lots of thumbing through this book until you finally hit on it-The Right Name.
You're looking for a name that resonates, one that's memorable and perfect-but not frighteningly memorable or overly perfect. You're looking for a name that is absolutely sure to have a positive effect on your little tyke's life.
Names Send Messages
Are you more likely to trust a Michael or a Donovan? An Erica or a Mary? A Crash or a Blake?
We know that most employers prefer middle-of-the-road names to crazy, quirky ones. Their bias tells them that maybe parents who give wild names to their babies don't have the genetic potential for brilliance that some other people may have. Of course, this isn't necessarily true-but it's a common perception. Of course, if the employer is interviewing for a screenwriter or creative think tank, a Quentin or a Hazel might get his attention, while he might not be interested in a Mary or John.
Many employers freely admit that they form opinions based on names-and even throw away a résumé if the name has a negative connotation. "If I'm interviewing for a position of financial responsibility," says one human resources director, "why would I want to talk to a woman whose name is Fluffy Petunia? I can't take her seriously." Wait a minute here. You didn't choose your name, right? It's not your fault-your parents gave it to you. As a newborn, you had no vote or voice.
True. But that doesn't change the fact that people react to names-in positive and negative and even neutral ways.
Same Name, Different Experience
Your own individual experiences affect how you feel about your name, and the same will be true for your child.
One girl tells of loving her name, which is Grace. "My sisters were named Honor and Faith, and we all liked our names."
But another girl named Grace hates the name, saying, "Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the most boring name known to mankind." This Grace is an example of a person who blames all her disappointments on the all-wrong name her parents gave her. "If I had just been Samantha or Roxanne, my life would have been better."
You may decide you just can't win when you name a baby. The question is, does that child make the name? Or does the name shape the child?
Warm, Fuzzy Names
Most people want to give their kids names they will love. That's why many of us can't let the process go. For the whole nine months we fret and falter, marvel and malinger, worry and wonder. Then when we hear that John Travolta and Kelly Preston have named their new baby Benjamin, and we nod and say, "Nice-I like that name." All parents are looking for a good fit like that one-a name that just feels right.
We warm to some names; they're just fun to say. A girl named Chloe says that people love to say her name. They meet her and after that when they see her they always say, "Hi, Chloe" or "Hey, there's Chloe," as if they just enjoy saying the name.
Some names feel more comfortable than others. For example, one man who works at a call center experimented with using different names on the phone on different days. He says he got good responses when he used the names Chris, Kevin, Michael, and Brad. But he got a terrific response when he switched to Chad. Callers would reply, "Hey, Chad!" in an upbeat tone. So he started using Chad all the time, and the response was 100 percent positive. He was amazed. If he changed to another name and returned to Chad, the exchange was always the best with Chad.
What Makes a Name Problematic?
What kinds of names cause problems? Those that people can't pronounce or spell, or those that resemble other, more familiar names.
Many women in particular report that they dislike having a name that is often mistaken for something that sounds similar. For example, a girl named Callie says people always think she is saying "Kelly" or "Kaley," and it drives her crazy because she has to set the record straight time after time.