The first thing you need to know is that I come from a part of the country where people like to give their kids Super Original Potentially Made Up names.
Listen, I’m fine with that. Naming a child is a totally personal choice. And picking a Super Original Potentially Made Up Name or using Creative Spelling to Transform a Regular Old Boring Name Into Something Special are both perfectly reasonable understandable popular ways to name your offspring.
I get the desire to differentiate your kid from all the other kiddos out there. I can understand why you’d want your child to feel special and unique and one-of-a-kind. Those are loving dreams to have for your child. And if you can give her a head start on achieving those dreams you have for her, perhaps by naming her something special and unique and one-of-a-kind, well, I GET that. (Well, I don’t REALLY get it, in that I am not a parent. But I get it as much as a non-parent CAN.)
I also get that names are subjective – just like movies and books and wallpaper vs. paint. Maybe I think Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP is one of the top 5 albums* ever made, but that doesn’t mean I expect you to agree with me, or to even list it in the top 1,000 albums ever made. Maybe I find Dance Moms to be perfectly enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t FULLY JUSTIFIED in thinking I am wasting my time and brain cells on that filth perfectly good programming.
Naming your child “Thunder” because no one else will ever have that name or respelling “Alexandra” as “Alyxxendra”… well, those names are not my kind of names. But just because they aren’t my kind of names doesn’t make them bad or inferior. It makes some of them interesting, sure. And I’m not going to lie – I have made some judgmental eye-rolls at some of the names I’ve heard. But come on. SUBJECTIVE.
Anyway, whenever we encounter a name like Bryleeah or Key’linn, my husband calls them “[Wife’s Town Name] Names.” And it irritates me a little, because a) my hometown is not the only town where people make up or creatively spell names, and b) some of those made-up/creatively-spelled names belong to my friends, and c) some of those made-up/creatively-spelled names belong to my friends’ kids, and d) did he not hear my whole spiel about names being SUBJECTIVE?
What I’m trying to say is this: When a high school friend/Facebook “friend” (who still lives in our hometown) asked for name suggestions for her baby boy, I was prepared for some creative options.
But the names her friends volunteered were pretty tame: Braedon. Aurel. Trayton. Tron. Ferrin.
What surprised me was one thread started by a long-time teacher.
My friend (“friend”) asked, “Does anyone have a good boy’s name? We’re trying to find a good one!”
Her teacher friend responded, “The name you choose depends on what kind of kid you want. I believe that your name gives you your personality. And I haven’t been wrong in 25 years as a teacher.”
Okay. That idea – that you can influence your child’s personality by choosing a certain type of name – is kind of fun and interesting.
For instance, if I were choosing a name for a character in a book I was writing, a “Tiffany” would have a totally different personality than a “Roberta.”
But that’s based on a whole set of personal biases, built up over years of meeting people and watching TV and reading books from the safety of my own personal brain.
Probably, based on your own cultural and personal experiences and assumptions and prejudices, you have a specific “type” in mind when you hear those names.
But I doubt that my vision of a “Tiffany” is the same as yours. Same with our visions of a “Roberta.” (Excepting, perhaps, that you’d most likely put “Tiffany” at around age 26 and “Roberta” at around age 67. That’s simply because “Roberta” was most popular between 1935 and 1953 and Tiffany was most popular between 1970 and 1999, so if you’ve encountered women with those names, they most likely fall into those age ranges.) (Listen, that was a very rough age estimate based on data from the Social Security baby names website, and I’m not good at math. So “average” is a VERY ROUGH TERM.)
Anyway, names DO come with “baggage.” Your personal experiences and biases affect your response to a name.
Even so, Internet, don’t those biases go away (or at least fade) once you’ve met the person?
Say the only Shayla you’ve ever met is shy and brooding and studious. So if I say, “Hey, I’m bringing my cousin Shayla to dinner next week!” you might picture a shy, brooding, studious woman.
But if you meet her, and she turns out to be a blonde tomboy with a sharp wit and a boisterous laugh and poor grammar… well, you’re not going to say something like, “All Shaylas have the same personality.”
Maybe the only Angie you ever knew was a huge bully. So when you hear that name, you think “bully.”
But does that mean you automatically assume that all Angies are bullies? Or that you believe that the name “Angie” is synonymous with “bullying personality,” and that’s that, no matter what?
With me here? Because I’m not quite sure I’m with me. Let’s see if this gets better/clearer…
I guess what I’m trying (poorly) to say is, I find it difficult to believe that you can bestow a specific personality upon someone when you name her.
If my parents had named me “Jill” instead of what they DID name me, I don’t think I would be any different. Well, I’d be less annoyed by the people who CANNOT SPELL OR PRONOUNCE my name, even if I say and/or spell it FOR THEM, FTLOG it’s not HARD or that UNUSUAL. But other than that, I’m pretty sure I’d be the same shy, reality-TV loving, hot-sauce eating, easy-to-cry, socially awkward person I am today.
Okay, sure, names themselves have a sort of personality. “Rose” might have some sort of universally feminine quality, for instance… Or “Victoria” might have some sort of perceived sense of classicality and strength… Or “Tom” might convey a sense of friendliness and approachability… I know baby books sometimes group names into categories like “fanciful and fantastical” or “macho swagger.” And I’d guess that many parents choose names with the idea that some of the name’s characteristics might rub off on their children.
But it became clear that this Facebook teacher (oh lordy, I just had an image of future children going to a class about Facebook, and having lessons about how to stalk your ex without getting caught by your boss or how to word the perfectly vague yet intriguing status update that will get ten million people to ask you questions about a “problem” you have no intention of discussing)… Well, I got a little lost in that parenthetical so let’s start over:
But it became clear that this Facebook teacher did not differentiate between name and actual person. Her philosophy is that all children of a certain name share not only personality traits, but, well, more.
Here are some of the examples she gave: **
- “All Brickabracks are troublemakers. In 25 years, I never had a Brickabrack who behaved in class.”
- “Hoozits are always winners. They exhibit perfect behavior, although they often possess just a bit of mischievousness. They’re highly intelligent and very good looking. I often called them ‘Handsome Hoozits’ when I had them in my class. They also talk more than most boys do.”
- “Jobajabs are loyal and well-behaved. But they only have average intelligence and looks.”
- “Speebles will drive you straight to the mental institution unless you tell them how brilliant and good looking they are 30 times a day.”
- “Dobbledeeboos are super attractive and very intelligent.”
- “I only ever had two Gooblabs, but they were both know-it-all sourpusses and tattlers. Only average in intelligence and appearance.”
(Seriously, lady. What is with the commentary on the looks?)
(She also had this little “altercation” with another commenter, who asked what she thought of boys with the name Tuskadee. [By the way, it was clear that the commenter was asking because she had a kid named Tuskadee.] Facebook teacher said, “Tuskadees are good, rule-following kids who don’t cause trouble.” The other person asked, “So the Tuskadees aren’t good looking?” And Facebook teacher replied, “They are regular-looking kids.” WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATION IS THIS?!?!)
I was… a little… thrown by this thread, Internet.
I can’t imagine sending my child to school with a perfectly good name (or not! maybe my name choices don’t float your boat!) only to have him pigeonholed by a teacher as a Certain Type.
Yes, I’m sure teachers (and doctors and employers and spouses) pigeonhole their students (and patients and employees and spouses) all the time for any number of reasons. And I know labels of any kind – gifted, ADHD, troublemaker, kiss-up, class-clown, jock, shy, geek, whatever – can leads to all sorts of problems or advantages for a child… and they can stick for years, if not forever.
But seriously… We’re going to use NAMES as personality indicators? Not just indicators, but set-in-stone commandments?
There was a whole chapter in Freakonomics on names. It’s been years since I read that book, but I seem to remember that the authors’ argument was that names can have a big impact on the course of a person’s life. Kids named Yale, for instance, often ended up in prison. (Or whatever. It’s been a long time and the book is in the other room and… yeah. You get my vague and admittedly poor memory instead.) And job applicants with ethnic-sounding names got hired less often than people with identical resumes and less-ethnic names. (This is not about whether I believe Freakonomics.) (I don’t. I find it interesting, but I’m not going to take it as gospel. Although the name interpretation chapter was really… eye opening.)
So, clearly, name choice and what a name says about a child is a Big Topic. One that I have neither enough knowledge of nor energy to pursue in this post.
I was so… surprised by the Facebook teacher’s views on names and that you “have to know what kind of child you want” before you pick a name… And I really wanted to Say Something about it. But I can’t really figure out what that Something is. Or how to say it.
So I guess I will leave you with this quote from the Facebook teacher:
“All kids are good kids. But every year when my fellow teachers and I got our class rosters, we’d ask, ‘Anybody get any Brickabracks? Anybody get any Whatchums?’ And if you had these kids in your class, you knew you were in for some trouble.”
Seriously? Does this woman not know that PEOPLE READ THESE COMMENTS?
And a few questions:
1. Do you find Facebook Teacher’s thoughts on the subject of naming as wackadoo peculiar as I do?
2. If you are a parent, did you pick your child’s/children’s names based on a particular personality you associated with the name?
3. Do you know of any names that are – 90% of the time, let’s say – representative of a specific personality? And if so, what is the name and what personality (and intelligence and looks, if you like) comes with that name?
4. Do you think this Facebook teacher is just a typical Facebook dingbat, or do you think other teachers are out there saying, “Oh boy, I’ve got another Ukler in my class this year. I better just give him Cs right now, since all Uklers are average students.”?
And, just for fun:
5. What is the most unusual real-life name you’ve ever come across?
6. How would you pronounce the name “Aurel”? Oral? Aural? Some other way?
* The other four? Weezer’s Blue Album, Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, The Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Garth Brooks’s No Fences.
** Names and grammar changed to protect the innocent and my eyes/high opinions of teachers, respectively.