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Excerpt from Chapter 1: What's in a Name? More Than You May Realize!
Your baby's name is the first birthday present she'll be receiving, one that has the power to shape how she will be perceived and who she will become. That adorable little bun in your oven is counting on you to come up with a beautiful, strong name for her to grow up with and grow into-a perfect choice; the perfect name.
And it's all up to you!
Some parents take this responsibility more seriously than others. Indeed, the last few years have shown a dramatic rise in a sort of naming neurosis. Take, for example, the Chinese mom and dad who infamously tried to name their child "@" (yes, "at"-the ubiquitous symbol used in e-mail addresses). They claimed that, roughly translated, the sounds that make up "at" also mean "love him" in Chinese, but officials refused to allow it. Also in China, whose exploding population presumably makes it harder to stand out, another set of parents named their baby "Saddam SARS" in 2003, in honor of some of the more unpleasant global events that took place that year. A hemisphere away, a New Zealand couple recently tried to name their son "4real." After being shut down by the government, they settled on the far blander "Superman" instead, though they insist their little man of steel will go by "4real" anyway.
While these may be ludicrous examples, the sincerity and spirit of these parents is actually quite understandable, even laudable: In this world of billions, a name-the ultimate signature of personhood-may be the best way to make your child stand out from the get-go. We whole-heartedly agree that choosing Baby's handle should be a license to have fun (keeping certain respectful limits in mind, of course), whether you're trying for that one-in-a-million moniker or simply opting for a well-loved classic.
But remember: It is not Baby's name that will make her unique. Rather, it's who she will grow to become that sets her apart from the masses, no matter if you call her Jane or January, Mary or Marquise, Emily or Ember. Now that it's your turn to choose, what will you do? How will you use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? There are so many things to consider that it might feel like it's almost impossible to begin. To help you along as you get ready to make your list, we've dissected some of the essential components, qualities, and characteristics that go into each and every name. So, without further ado, here are six things to think about for every twenty-first-century mom- and dad-to-be.
1. Impressions and Associations
You never get a second chance to make a first impression ... and the very first part of a first impression often comes in the form of a name. To understand what we mean, try the following exercise: Play a round of free association with your significant other as a way to evaluate contenders on your list. Just shoot some names out at each other and see what happens-you may be surprised at the images and associations they bring to mind.
It's not just the literal connections you may make with certain names-such as Saddam, Madonna, and Elvis-but more subtle assumptions that have simply entered the public consciousness in North America. For example, Bertha is a big woman; Dexter is a nerd; and Farrah is a babe with feathered hair.
This has to do with stereotypes, both good and bad. But the impressions we get from names also vary over time and space. The name Andrew, for example, dipped in popularity after the 1992 hurricane of the same name. This was especially true in Florida and Louisiana, where the storm hit hard, while in the Northwest, so very far away from all the devastation, the name actually retained its top-10 position. Predictably, Katrina dropped 136 places in a single year. Monica has suffered a similar fate since news of a certain scandal broke in 1998. The year after Princess Diana died, the name enjoyed a brief surge in popularity, as it did the year after she married Prince Charles in 1981.
It isn't always so cut and dried. There are plenty of names out there loaded with dubious associations-courtesy of popular culture, history, and current events-and yet some people choose them anyway. That's because, whether you realize it or not, your perception of a name is informed by many other factors, too: your personality, preferences, location, religion, economic status, and so on. If you teach a Modern Feminist Thought course at Berkeley, for example, you may not want to name your daughter Barbie, though a former pageant winner from Minnesota may actually have nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings for the name. But should you really worry about such things? Our feeling is that if a name works for you in your world, go for it!
Your name and your identity are inextricably linked. That's why so many parents feel anxious about the whole naming process-coming up with a name to suit somebody you haven't even met yet is a pretty tall order. But you needn't worry: As Baby grows up, he'll grow into his name, too. It will simply become a part of who he is, though in many ways-and this is the case with everyone-his name will say as much, if not more, about the people who named him!
A name often tells the story of its bearer. Think about it: What does your name say about you? When you're being introduced to someone else, what do you think it says about them? Whether you like it or not, a name can hold many hints and clues about its owner, including age, gender, social status, nationality, and religion, among others. As such, there are several ways that a name can reflect your child's unique identity. First, there's the family he's being born into. Endowing him with a name that has familial significance-whether it's the first name of a beloved great-grandparent who passed on, or your own maiden name-is an excellent way to tie together who your child is and where he came from with what he will be called. Religious, cultural, and geographic attributes of a family are also carried in a name, as are the expectations his parents may have of him. For example, calling your son Henry will perhaps make him feel a bit differently about himself than if you'd called him River. Consider these questions as you're making your list in order to infuse your choices with qualities that jive with your vision of him and his identity as a whole.