“What’s in a Name?”

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

My full name in four kinds of Persian and Arabic script

“What’s in a name?” asked Shakespeare’s Romeo.

What prompted my research into this question was a story I heard from a Buddhist minister. When he became ordained, the first Buddhist name he chose combined two Japanese words, one meaning the teachings of the Buddha and the other the sea. It was a name he hoped would inspire him in his work. What a surprise when he shared the name with his wife and she burst out laughing. In her native Samoan tongue one of the Japanese words meant sewage. He chose a different name.

But what about the rest of us who were given our names? If you were picking a name for yourself today, would you keep the one you have or would you change it?

Names come with all kinds of expectations, good and bad.

Historically, certain names have been considered desirable in our culture and other names undesirable. For many years, parents stuck to traditional names. William, for example, was in the top ten in 1890, 1940 and 2007.  Elizabeth also lasted through these hundred plus years. Which is not to say that there aren’t still traditionalists among us. In 2012, only 27% of parents chose a name not found in the top 1,000 for that year.

In the last ten years the most popular names list has already changed. Only Emma, a top girls’ name in 2004 made it to the 2014 list.  For boys, Aiden remained constant.

These days, unusual names are in vogue. Fruits, vegetables, flowers and seasons are big with the Hollywood set: Apple, Fuchsia, and Poppy Honey. Then there are Blue, Pax, Peaches Honeyblossom, Bear Blaze and Summer.

In a class of its own is Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles Conley. He says he like his name. Whatever the length or popularity of our name, there’s a link between liking or disliking it and our self-esteem.

Children of wealthy parents who have unusual names are better able to escape name-related problems than poorer children.

Kids with names associated with parents’ low-socioeconomic status… “do worse in school and are less likely to be recommended for gifted [classes] and more likely to be classified as learning disabled.”

*In a poll of teachers from the United Kingdom, “More than one-in-three of the teachers surveyed “expect” children with certain names to cause more trouble than others.”

Another case of name discrimination occurred when a group of employers was given a collection of resumes with names sounding like they belonged to Caucasians and those that sounded like the job applicant was African American. Those in the former group had a 50% higher callback rate than the latter.

After looking at the research, I’m content to have ordinary first and middle names. I’m especially glad I wasn’t named after a fruit, flower, vegetable or season. Too risky to chance getting labeled Pineapple, Bleeding Heart, Radish or Fall.


About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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3 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Shirley says:

    Thank you, Ann. Another delightful thoughtful take on Rev. Warrick’s story.

  2. Hi Ann, you make a good point. In Taiwan, the students or more often their parents chose an English name for them when they start class. In my school for some reason there are lots of Jasons – a name that now holds very negative associations. At another school I met an older student named Jason and jokingly asked him if he was a good Jason or a bad Jason. He is definitely smart, but as disruptive as the majority of Jasons I have met. When the kids go to university and meet foreigners they often pick a different English name, which can be very confusing. I had a friend introduce himself as Jimmy last year, and now he has changed it to Ricky.

    • stillalife says:

      I thought about the phenomenon of newcomers to this country changing their names as I wrote this. I just read something about Chinese starting to choose unusual English names — maybe it was in Country Driving by Peter Hessler. It’s worth a whole blog — that you should write.

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